For most of the British Grand Prix, Lewis Hamilton was unassailable at the front of the field but Ferrari at least looked like scoring a double podium finish behind him with Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel. But it all went away from them in the final five laps of the race.
Raikkonen looked the sure runner-up finisher after a weekend where he had Vettel’s measure, outqualifying him and then running second most of the race even on a longer first stint before pitting to switch from supersofts to softs.
Alas, Raikkonen’s usual sparring partner Valtteri Bottas had gone for the opposite strategy after starting ninth for Mercedes, starting on softs, then switching to supersofts. He was catching him up at least a second a lap for second, if not more, before Raikkonen slowed in the final few laps with a left front puncture.
He pitted, and looked all set to fall off the podium with Bottas up to second and Vettel to third.
But Vettel’s race eroded at almost an identical time frame with an even worse delaminating and puncture on his left front.
This issue occurred shortly after Bottas had got Vettel on his own.
Raikkonen was able to recover back to the podium in third behind Bottas as Vettel and Max Verstappen pitted, but Vettel fell to seventh, and his championship lead plunged to just one point ahead of Hamilton in the process.
Raikkonen was restrained on the podium, telling 2009 World Champion Jenson Button, “Yeah we got more or less the most out of the race. They (Mercedes) were just a bit faster. We were struggling a little bit to go faster.
“The end was an unlucky situation. For whatever reason the front left, not really exploded, but was struggling. Luckily I got back going quite fast. Unfortunately then Seb had the same thing I think a lap later. Not happy, but not the worst.”
Raikkonen was more despondent when speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton in the media bullpen a bit later.
“All was fine. Then it suddenly exploded. The air wasn’t in the tire. A part came off and it was flapping around. It was sudden,” he said. “It was only a few laps to go. We should have been OK.”
Vettel did not visit NBCSN within the media bullpen. His race was compromised early by brake smoke off the line and despite a successful undercut of Verstappen, did tell Sky Sports he thought the tire issues “caught us both by surprise.”
Further investigation about what caused the respective issues will no doubt occur. However, as Vettel’s now been unable to win since Monaco nearly two months ago, suddenly Hungary looms as a very important weekend ahead.