Lewis Hamilton leads the field in the early stages of the European grand prix. Photo: Alberto Saiz/AP

Lewis Hamilton leads the field in the early stages of the European grand prix. Photo: Alberto Saiz/AP

McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton lost victory in the European Grand Prix to Brawn’s Rubens Barrichello after a pit-lane mix-up. A tense battle for the lead was settled when McLaren failed to have Hamilton’s tyres ready for his second pit stop.

Hamilton, who had led from the start, and was unable to make any impression on Barrichello’s lead before the end. Kimi Raikkonen was third for Ferrari. Jenson Button finished seventh and Barrichello moves to second in the championship ahead of Red Bull’s Mark Webber.

Barrichello is 18 points adrift of Button with 60 remaining in the final six races of the season. Webber is a further 2.5 adrift, while Vettel has slipped to 25 points adrift of the lead.

“It has a been a great weekend,” Barrichello said. “You don’t forget how to do it, even though it’s five years.

“They were telling me push, push, push. You want to do it for yourself, your team, your family, your country. So there was a lot going through my mind.”

Raikkonen drove an excellent race for Ferrari to take the final podium place ahead of Hamilton’s team-mate Heikki Kovalainen, who again did well in qualifying only to fade in the race.

Nico Rosberg was fifth for Williams, ahead of Renault’s Fernando Alonso.

Barrichello was third on the grid behind Hamilton and Kovalainen, but was fastest of all on fuel-corrected times.

He held on to third place off the start and settled in behind the McLarens for the duration of the first stint.

He stayed within touching distance of Kovalainen and leapfrogged the Finn by using his larger fuel load to stop three laps later, during which time he set a succession of fast lap times.

Once the field had settled down after the stops, Barrichello was slightly more than three seconds adrift of Hamilton and the gap see-sawed between three and four seconds until Hamilton’s final pit stop on lap 37.

The McLaren pit wall were late in asking their mechanics to bring Hamilton’s tyres into the pit lane, and that delayed the world champion by about four seconds.

It almost certainly cost Hamilton the race. Barrichello did not stop until lap 40, and set fastest laps on two of his three remaining tours, but the Brawn was only six seconds clear of Hamilton after his stop.

That meant he made a net gain of two seconds on the track – not enough to close the gap to Hamilton. McLaren team boss Martin Whitmarsh denied that it had cost the team the race, however.

“It was clear we weren’t as quick in the race as we should have been,” Whitmarsh said.

“Rubens was quite a bit quicker than us and we were tying to get an extra lap. That made our call late and we didn’t get the tyres out in time.

“We were monitoring the fuel, he was meant to come in on lap 37 and were trying to get him to come in on lap 38, but it didn’t work.

“To have a car arrive and not have the tyres there is an operational error. But had the tyres been ready it wouldn’t have made a difference. It only cost us a couple of seconds.”

Hamilton said: “We win and we lose together. We had a tremendous effort to get us here so we cannot at all take second place for granted or be disappointed we didn’t get the win because we’ve had extraordinary pace and it was a tremendous effort from everyone.

“These things happen. I’ve had so many races for this team and this hardly ever happens. It’s only the second time, I think. We need to catch these guys up because I believe they are a little but quicker than us but we’re pushing all the time.”

Button qualified fifth – two places behind his team-mate – on a weekend when the Brawns returned to form. But he slipped down to ninth after a messy first lap.

The Englishman spent the middle part of the race trying to pass Webber, a feat he finally managed during the second and final pit stop period.

Webber lost eighth place to the improved BMW Sauber of Robert Kubica after getting stuck behind slower cars on the lap before his stop and then suffering a slight delay in the pits.

Once clear of the traffic he had got himself stuck behind, Button set a series of fastest laps in the final stages of the race as he attempted to chase down Alonso.

He will nevertheless be encouraged by his pace here – but well aware that he does not know whether Brawn have solved the problems that prevented them from being competitive in the cooler conditions of the preceding three races.

Button will now be anxious to see whether the changes Brawn are planning to improve their performance in cooler conditions than the stifling heat of Valencia work at the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps in the Ardennes mountains next weekend. –BBC News