(CNN) -- Earlier this month Formula One's governing body punished Pirelli and Mercedes for holding an unsanctioned tire test -- at the British Grand Prix it was Pirelli meting out punishment to the elite racing series.
British home hope Lewis Hamilton lost the lead when the left-rear tire of his Mercedes began to unravel on the eighth lap at the demanding Silverstone circuit.
It was the first of four incidents as Ferrari's Felipe Massa, Toro Rosso's Jean-Eric Vergne and McLaren's Sergio Perez also had their races ruined by failures to the exact same tire.
Hamilton -- and the 130,000 British fans who streamed into Silverstone to support the 2008 world champion -- were left counting the cost more than most.
His problem handed Sebastian Vettel the race lead and Red Bull's defending world champion marched ominously towards the checkered flag.
But there was a final twist -- and a dash of retribution for Mercedes -- as Vettel's Red Bull ground to a halt with 10 laps to go.
"We had a gearbox issue," said the German, who now leads the championship by 21 points from Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.
"Fifth gear broke and it was not possible to carry on. It was quite disappointing to stop and retire."
The Mercedes of Nico Rosberg inherited the lead from Vettel and the German, who celebrated his 28th birthday this weekend, raced to his first British GP victory and second of the season.
"When Seb stopped, I won't lie, I wasn't disappointed," smiled Rosberg, winner of the Monaco GP. "I definitely feel sorry for the British fans as it would have been a great ace for Lewis.
"But there were too many tire failures today and they need to look into that."
Mark Webber, who announced he was retiring from the sport at the end of the year, recovered from a dismal start to claim a brilliant second in his last-ever F1 race on British soil.
"The start was a big negative for us and then [Romain] Grosjean touched my front wing at Turn One and the race reset from there," Webber explained.
"I pushed very hard to do the business and in the end it was a very, very good result. It's been a real highlight for me to race at this circuit."
Ferrari's Fernando Alonso followed the Australian home and the Spaniard said he considered himself "lucky" to have avoided the tire issues that hit other drivers.
"It was a lucky race for us," said Alonso. "We recovered some points but we need to raise our game as our pace is not good enough."
There was some world-class racing in the final laps.
Hamilton fought his way back through the field to finish fourth ahead of Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen, who is nine points ahead of the Briton in the championship.
But regardless of the driving drama, tire failures dominated the fall-out from the British race --- even Vettel's first retirement in 12 months seemed to dip under the radar.
In the immediate aftermath of the race, Pirelli responded to serious safety concerns as the drivers questioned whether they were pushing themselves and their cars to the limit in safe conditions.
"Someone could've crashed," said Hamilton. "I was thinking behind the safety car that it's only when someone gets hurt that something will be done about it."
Massa, who was running in fourth before his tire failure, added: "What happened is unacceptable.
"It was very dangerous for all of the 22 drivers racing. In order for us to race we cannot have these problems. They need to do something for our safety."
In a short media conference after the race, Pirelli motorsport director Paul Hembery explained: "Today wasn't foreseen. We've seen a different type of problem.
"We are still doing our analysis so we have to go away and understand what's happened and get to the core of the issue. We take these things seriously. It was one tire, the left rear. When we have the answer we'll let you know."
Pirelli had wanted to introduce a new tire construction at the Canadian Grand Prix earlier this month but failed to get all the teams to agree to the change at a meeting in Monaco.
The weakness of the tires had been masked in Montreal but the high-speed nature of the Silverstone circuit in the heart of England brutally exposed their frailties.
"Pirelli appeared to come up with a solution with a different construction and that was being offered from Montreal," said Red Bull's chief technical officer Adrian Newey.
"Two or three teams vetoed that because they were worried it would suit other teams more than them and because of that short-sightedness we have F1 putting on the worrying performance it did today and concerns over driver safety."
The sport's governing body, the FIA, are coming under pressure to force through a change in tires with or without the consent of the teams.
As a result, the issue is due to be on the agenda at a meeting of the Sporting Working Committee on Wednesday ahead of the German Grand Prix with Pirelli invited to attend by the FIA.
Later Sunday Rosberg was subsequently handed a reprimand after the race for failing to reduce his speed under yellow flags, which are waved to warn drivers to slow down, but no further sanction was imposed.