NUERBURGRING, Germany (AP) — Pushed hard by a driver who may become his teammate, Sebastian Vettel finally won at home in Germany in a race that featured some scary moments Sunday.
The three-time defending Formula One champion surged ahead in his Red Bull by the first curve and then had to resist the challenge of two fast Lotus cars. He took the checkered flag a second ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, who is being mentioned as Vettel's possible future colleague.
"It was a tough race. It was one of the toughest for a long time," Vettel said after his fourth victory of the season. "I am happy the race was 60 laps and not 61 or 62, the Lotus were incredibly fast and pushing very hard, and Kimi was putting a lot of pressure on me at the end — he was a bit quicker.
"It's incredible to win at home, a great relief. It's sweet to win here, but at the end it's just another race. I'm happy to take (the) win and score some points."
Vettel had been without a win in Europe for 22 months and — more obscurely — had never won a race in July.
Vettel's 30th career victory extended his championship lead to 34 points over Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, who finished fourth. Raikkonen moved up to third, 41 points behind Vettel.
There were no tire blowouts but the race had its share of bizarre incidents, including a loose wheel flying through the air in the pit lane and an abandoned car drifting on its own down the track. A cameraman fractured a shoulder and cracked a rib in the wheel accident.
Third place went to Romain Grosjean, Raikkonen's Lotus teammate.
Raikkonen went for his third and final pit stop with 10 laps remaining and overtook Grosjean five laps later, on team orders.
"Maybe we should have gambled, the tires were good," Raikkonen said about his late pit stop. "I wonder if we should have gone to the end.
"But I had massive problem with the radio. I could hear the team but they couldn't hear me."
Raikkonen and Vettel are friends off and on the track but were noncommittal when asked Sunday about driving for the same team.
"He is quite good at what he does. I respect him a lot but at the end it's not my decision," Vettel said.
Vettel and Red Bull teammate Mark Webber, who is leaving the team at the end of the season, got off to a flying start.
Vettel started second behind pole sitter Lewis Hamilton, with Webber right behind. Both flashed by the Mercedes driver on either side before the first curve.
But Webber lost his rear right wheel when he was released from his first pit stop too soon and finished seventh after dropping to the back of the field after the incident. The flying wheel struck British cameraman Paul Allen. He remained conscious and was treated at the circuit before being taken to a nearby hospital.
Red Bull was fined 38,650 for releasing Webber too soon.
"I knew we had lost the tire in the pit stop of course, but not that someone got hit by it. That's bad and I hope he is OK, that's the main thing," said Webber.
Hamilton struggled with his tires and finished fifth as Mercedes again failed to live up to the promise of its fast qualifying performance.
While the tires held and made the threat of a drivers' boycott redundant, another scary incident took place when Jules Bianchi's Marussia spewed smoke and caught fire briefly. Bianchi got out of the car, which started freewheeling down the track on its own. There were no other cars coming as the driverless vehicle ended up on the grass, hit a trackside billboard and came to a halt as stewards rushed to control it.
That brought on the safety car for five laps, bringing the Lotus cars nearer to Vettel. But despite coming close, neither managed to get past the German.
The tires became an issue after a series of blowouts at last week's British Grand Prix, prompting drivers to threaten a pullout if the problems persisted in Germany.
Tire supplier Pirelli made some changes and the tires held, before the Italian manufacturer provides a new compound to be used for the first time at the next race in Hungary in three weeks' time.