|© AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis
Midway through the British Grand Prix, it seemed Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Mark Webber would be looking back on the race with anger and regret.
Webber had a horrible start and was nudged off the track by Romain Grosjean to find himself in 14th. Hamilton, the early race leader, blew a tyre and came out of the pits in 18th while Alonso started in ninth and struggled to move up the grid.
But the trio showed why they are among the sport's elite drivers.
They made late charges in the final laps of the incident-marred race to earn top five finishes -- with Webber nearly overtaking race winner Nico Rosberg of Mercedes, before settling for second. Alonso was third and Hamilton fourth.
Some of it came down to their overtaking skills, but they also benefited from the misfortune of four other drivers who had tyre trouble and race leader Sebastian Vettel retiring with mechanical problems. That brought out the safety car twice, which allowed the Hamilton and Webber to take well-timed pit stops.
"What a day! I don't think any of us expected it to unfold like this," Webber said.
"I was praying for a safety car, but not for the reason they were coming, as you knew you could be next," he said. "When you have something like that, it's Russian roulette. When you see that many tyre issues for the fellow competitors then it's never comforting. I made the most of those safety cars - and today the strategy was one of the best we've done."
Alonso was particularly impressive as he worked his way up through the field. Dropping six spots to eighth after the second safety car came out with ten laps to go, he overtook several cars down the stretch including Kimi Raikkonen to reach the podium.
"Overall, I think it has been a very lucky race for us," he said. "Looking at the problems with the tyres of some of the drivers, the fact we didn't have any problems we have to consider lucky. And then with Sebastian's problem, we've been also lucky to recover some points. At the end it was a very good Sunday."
But Alonso said the team still has work to do to catch the Red Bulls -- especially when they are both running at full strength.
"Mixed feelings to be honest. Happy for the points, we've reduced the gap a little bit in this race but the pace we saw this weekend is not good enough," he said. "There were some other Sundays that we lost some points and maybe I was more optimistic. Today, we recovered some points but we know there is a lot of work to do."
Hamilton also did well to recover from a setback that would have crushed less-experienced drivers. After he fell to 18th following a blown tyre, he took advantage of the first safety car early on to move into 13th by the lap 25. He was up to sixth by lap 35, fell to ninth on lap 45 and then made his charge. In the last seven laps, he overtook Toro Rosso's Daniel Ricciardo, Force India's Adrian Sutil and finally Raikkonen with one lap remaining.
"The tyre problem was such a shame and from then, it was just a case of giving it my all and battling as far up the field as possible," Hamilton said. "I had some good overtaking moves and, given another lap, I might have got Fernando and ended up on the podium. Everything considered, fourth place is pretty good after having been last on lap ten and we'll take that. It's a great result for the team today, big congratulations to Nico who came through a tricky situation to take the win for us."
Vettel remains the leader in the drivers' championship with 132 points, 21 points ahead of Alonso on 111 with 11 races remaining. Raikkonen is third with 98 and Hamilton fourth with 89, some 43 points behind Vettel.