An emotional Mark Webber clinched his first career victory in Formula One as he carried Red Bull Racing to their third 1-2 finish of the season at the Nurburgring.
With no fewer than five drivers, including race favourite Sebastian Vettel, and two of the biggest manufacturers in the motoring industry lining up for their home grand prix, Sunday’s sixty lap race at the Nurburgring was supposed to be an all-German affair. But it was the searing speed and controlled aggression from no-nonsense Aussie Mark Webber that stole the show as the man from Queanbeyan, New South Wales, bounced back from a drive-through penalty to claim his first ever victory and shake off his reputation as Formula One’s nearly-man.
“It is an incredible day for me,” said an overjoyed Webber in the post-race press conference. “I wanted to win so badly after Silverstone. I thought I had a good chance there. After pole I knew I was in a good position to win the race this year, I thought the only thing that could beat me or test me even more was the rain, but that held off.
“I lost Rubens off the start, I thought he had gone to the left but he went right and I banged into him. I had a drive-through and my engineer kept me calm.
“It was a difficult winter, Sebastian showed in winter testing what the car could do, so I kept my motivation high and I was hurting a lot. The team had patience with me, everyone in Australia and a few people who doubted me too so hello to them as well. So thank you to everyone who helped me here.”
Starting from pole, Webber, a veteran of 131 race starts and seven full seasons of Formula One, broke his duck in spectacular fashion with a race pace that neither of the Brawn drivers, nor his teammate Sebastian Vettel in identical machinery, could match.
Not even a drive through penalty got in his way. Whether it was nerves getting the better of him or his natural aggression, the Red Bull driver, slow off the line, veered into Rubens Barrichello and was penalised for his actions ten laps later. He almost tangled with Lewis Hamilton too as the McLaren driver, aided by his KERS device, overcooked it into the first corner. Hamilton came off worse picking up a puncture which wrote off his race.
“I knew my start was not absolutely fantastic,” recounted Webber. “I moved across a little bit and as soon as I hit him I was surprised. I also clipped Lewis, with these KERS cars and the way the mirrors are set up on these cars everyone is in a similar situation. A difficult run to the first corner but everyone got away okay.”
Webber may have been assisted by third place man Felipe Massa who held the shorter fuelled Barrichello up after the Brazilian’s first stop, but such was the underlying pace of the Webber-RB5 package that there was little doubting his return to the front. After leapfrogging Barrichello at his second pitstop, the longer fuelled Webber went on to dominate the race, leading home teammate Sebastian Vettel to secure Red Bull’s third 1-2 finish of the season.
The victory makes Webber only the third Australian driver to win in Formula One and he is the first to do so since Alan Jones in 1981.
The result also sees Webber establish himself in the championship race as he closes the gap to teammate Vettel to a mere two points, while both drivers are homing in on championship leader Jenson Button who is thirteen points clear of Vettel. And in the constructors championship Red Bull Racing, now with what is clearly the fastest car on the grid, have reduced the gap to Brawn to 20 points.
It was a day of damage limitation for championship leader Jenson Button. Both Brawn drivers have been struggling with grip and Button, like Barrichello, was three-stopping to minimise the running on the harder tyre compound. A three stop strategy was by no means the quickest way around the sixty lap race and Button had to work hard to salvage fifth place behind the impressive Nico Rosberg who started in fifteenth.
“It was a fantastic result for us today,” commented Rosberg. “As I started 15th, I honestly wasn t expecting too much but I took a few chances on the opening lap and finished it in 9th place!”
“Although I had more fuel than anyone else, I kept pushing hard and that, together with a little luck that Heikki Kovalainen had created a bit of traffic jam behind him, helped for sure. I was also carrying a problem with the fuel system, so it was quite eventful and makes the race outcome even better.”
“We are continually progressing with our car, our development is looking good and because of this our pace is right up there. I am looking forward to Hungary now, because I think it will be another race where we can have a good result.”
Barrichello dropped to sixth place at the close after a refuelling problem saw him fall back into the clutches of his Brawn teammate.
Fernando Alonso took seventh place for Renault and was lucky to make the start at all after spinning on the formation lap. The Renault driver made use of his two-stop strategy to vault up to the back of the Brawn drivers.
“It was a difficult race because my start was very poor and we lost quite a few positions before the first corner,” said Alonso. “After that, the race was tough and we were stuck in traffic, but the car has clearly improved as I set the fastest lap and scored some points. The most important thing I take from the weekend is that we are competitive and we can be optimistic for the races to come.”
McLaren’s Heikki Kovalainen ran as high as third place after an impressive start, but he never really showed to have the pace of the leaders and dropped back to eighth place overall after his pitstops.
McLaren will take heart from the improvements they have made over the last few weeks but Lewis Hamilton will be agonising over his first corner antics which potentially cost him a podium.
“My race was effectively over at Turn One,â€ the defending world champion conceded. “I had quite a good launch down to Turn One, and I was braking when I felt a tap from the rear and went straight on. I think the flat tyre had damaged the rear floor and it felt like I was out there driving on ice. I suggested to the team that we save the engine and gearbox for the future because there s a lot more potential ahead of us than we d anticipated before this weekend.”
“But that s racing and we ll move on. The best thing about this weekend was that our updates were successful. The team has done a fantastic job over the last few weeks and I m already looking forward to the next race.â€
It was a similar story for Ferrari with Felipe Massa impressing in third while Kimi Raikkonen’s race ended prematurely with an engine failure. Both McLaren and Ferrari appear to have caught up in the development race after beginning the year on the back foot, but with both teams announcing their intention to focus on next year’s car, there are unlikely now to mount a challenge on Brawn and Red Bull.
BMW Sauber, who joined McLaren and Ferrari in last year’s title race, are still looking for improvement. Nick Heidfeld finished the race in tenth place behind fellow countryman Timo Glock, while Robert Kubica climbed to fourteenth place at the close.
“The race result reflects our performance throughout the whole weekend,” said BMW Motorsport boss Mario Theissen. “For us it was a race without anything special happening apart from NickÃ‚´s second pitstop. This was because after taking on fuel and fitting new tyres he had to let Nelsinho Piquet pass. Because of this he lost valuable time, and his chance for P8 and a point. However, we had no technical problems.”
Force India’s Adrian Sutil ran as high as second place and was looking strong for a podium, but he collided with Kimi Raikkonen exiting the pitlane after his second race. He dropped to fifteenth at the chequered flag ahead of Sebastian Buemi and Jarno Trulli.
“When I went out of the pit lane I saw Kimi coming on the outside of the corner and I just tried to hold my line but he went to the outside and I touched him and lost part of my front wing,” recounted the German.
“That’s really when I thought the race was over for the points as I had to come back in. I kept pushing hard though as you never know what will happen. Overall I think we’ve learnt a lot; it’s the first time starting in the top 10 and it’s a different race up there! It’s been a good push for everyone in the team to get some more development so we can finally get some points.”
Teammate Giancarlo Fisichella reinforced Force India’s potential by climbing to eleventh place.
Sebastian Bourdais, in what was widely believed to be his final race with Toro Rosso before being replaced, joined Kimi Raikkonen in retirement with a hydraulics problem.
“I began to lose hydraulic pressure and so I lost the power steering, clutch and eventually everything else and so I had to pull in. It’s a shame of course, because although we were at the back at the time, I think we had a good strategy, with a heavy fuel load and, even running on primes we could manage the gap to those ahead of us, staying in touch with them.”
1 Mark Webber Red Bull 1:36:43.310
2 Sebastian Vettel Red Bull 9.252
3 Felipe Massa Ferrari 15.906
4 Nico Rosberg Williams 21.099
5 Jenson Button Brawn 23.609
6 Rubens Barrichello Brawn 24.468
7 Fernando Alonso Renault 24.888
8 Heikki Kovalainen McLaren 58.692
9 Timo Glock Toyota 1:01.457
10 Nick Heidfeld BMW 1:01.925
11 Giancarlo Fisichella Force India 1:02.327
12 Kazuki Nakajima Williams 1:02.876
13 Nelson Piquet Renault 1:08.328
14 Robert Kubica BMW 1:09.555
15 Adrian Sutil Force India 1:11.941
16 Sebastien Buemi Toro Rosso 1:30.225
17 Jarno Trulli Toyota 1:30.970
18 Lewis Hamilton McLaren at 1 lap
19 Kimi RÃ¤ikkÃ¶nen Ferrari out
20 Sebastien Bourdais Toro Rosso out