He lost the lead at the start and was handed a drive-through penalty for causing a collision.
But that wasn’t enough to stop Mark Webber storming to victory in the German Grand Prix – and claiming the first win of his career.
The Red Bull driver led home a second consecutive one-two for his team while the Brawns struggled to fifth and sixth.
Starting from pole position with more fuel on board than the closest cars to him, Webber might have had things easy had he got away cleanly. But by the time he got to the first corner he’d hit two cars and lost the lead.
First Rubens Barrichello – who’d started second – charged past, the pair making contact as Webber tried to push Barrichello towards the pit wall.
Next Lewis Hamilton came flying by from fifth on the grid thanks to his KERS boost.
Unfortunately for Hamilton he clipped Webber’s front wing on the way past, which punctured his right-rear tyre. For the second time in a row at the Nurburgring he had to limp back to the pits at the end of lap one.
McLaren’s hopes were now resting on the sister car of Kovalainen, which lacked the up-to-date parts that were on Hamilton’s MP4/24. Nevertheless he held onto third in the opening stages, behind Barrichello and Webber.
Jenson Button took fourth off Felipe Massa with a neat move on lap two, but couldn’t do anything about the similarly slow and KERS-equipped McLaren. Sebastian Vettel found himself stuck behind Massa and, as at Catalunya earlier this year, unable to make a pass.
Webber hit with penalty
This played into Barrichello and Webber’s hands perfectly as they quickly left Kovalainen and his train behind. By lap ten Kovalainen was 15 seconds in arrears, with the three cars behind him covered by just two seconds.
But on lap 11 the stewards confirmed Webber’s penalty for the clash with Barrichello at the start – a very harsh call which left one wondering about the many past occasions where drivers had pushed rivals clean off the track without being punished.
Red Bull pulled Webber in for his penalty on lap 14 – as late as they could get away with, to take the maximum advantage from Webber’s rivals being stuck behind Kovalainen. Button had already surrendered to the inevitable and made his stop on lap 13, Barrichello following suit the next time by.
Lap 19 saw Webber’s second visit to the pits – for his first stop. This was two laps earlier than team mate Vettel, who had started on an identical load but saved some fuel while stuck behind Massa.
Webber was briefly delayed behind Robert Kubica. He also had Button bottled up behind him, who had picked off Sebastien Buemi and Nick Heidfeld after his first stop. Kubica came in on lap 23, releasing the pair.
It goes wrong for Barrichello
That proved crucial to the outcome of the race, as Barrichello was now stuck behind Massa. After Kubica pitted Barrichello lapped in a 1’37.641, Button a 1’36.313, and Webber a 1’35.665.
Unable to pass Massa, Barrichello had to wait for him to come in on lap 25 before he could pick up the pace. Even then he had little response for the flying Webber. On lap 31, the last before his pit stop, Barrichello was 1.6s slower than Webber, who had the Brawn in his sights, just 1.2s separating them.
While Button’s Brawn was running a three-stop strategy Barrichello’s second stop was supposed to fuel him to the end. But it didn’t work out that way – the refuelling rig failed and the back-up had to be used. In addition to costing Barrichello precious time, he didn’t take on enough fuel, which ruined the second half of his race.
That effectively sealed the win for Webber – and it also cost Barrichello a place to Button. Afterwards the furious Brazilian had some strong words for his team.
Rosberg gains ten places
As at Silverstone three weeks ago, Felipe Massa and Nico Rosberg used long first stints to make up a lot of places. Massa, who started eighth, found himself third, while Rosberg moved up from 15th on the grid to fourth – thanks also to a brilliant start which gained him six places.
Rosberg had been running behind the Force India of Adrian Sutil in the early stages, but a clash with Raikkonen put Sutil out of the running. The pair collided as Sutil left the pits, damaging the Force India’s nose.
Alonso on the attack
The other driver making waves in the final stint was Fernando Alonso, who revelled in his final set of tyres and set the fastest lap of the race on the 49th tour. That brought him onto the rear of the all-Brawn battle for fifth, with Button ahead after their final pit stops.
Button struggled with rear tyre wear on his final set of Bridgestones, lapping in the mid-1’35s and holding up Barrichello and Alonso. The threat of rain that preceded the race failed to materialise, and the temperature was warmer than expected. This should have helped Brawn, but still they struggled with their tyres.
Alonso couldn’t make a pass, though. Nor could the battling Kovalainen (eighth), Timo Glock (impressively up to ninth having started in the pit lane) and Heidfeld (tenth).
Another one-two for Red Bull
Behind the Red Bull one-two – their third of the year – came Massa and Rosberg, followed by the Brawns. Heikki Kovalainen took the final point and Alonso grabbed two for seventh – making up for an embarassing moment on the formation lap when he spun off, much as he did at Catalunya last year.
A race that promised much for Force India ended with Giancarlo Fisichella an anonymous 11th and Sutil 15th. Sutil’s nemesis Raikkonen retired shortly after half distrance. BMW’s revised diffuser did little for their poor pace, Heidfeld finishing tenth and Kubica 14th.
Jarno Trulli was 17th, ruing a first-lap collision that damaged his front wing. The other victim of the first-lap melee, Lewis Hamilton, was 18th and last of the runners.
Sebastian Bourdais quietly pulled into the pits and retired on lap 18, from what might have been his last race.
Webber’s win changes the complexion of the championship – it signals Red Bull’s ability to challenge Red Bull for the rest of the season, but it also shows that with two closely-matched drivers they will have to accept the pair will take points off each other.
Button, fifth, now leads by 21 points with Vettel second, and Webber another 1.5 points behind. Brawn’s lead in the constructors’ championship is down to 19.5 points.