Although he was to ultimately retire from this year’s Foster’s Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park yesterday (March 9) on lap 16, Mark Webber emerged highly encouraged by the performance of the new Jaguar R4 at its first Grand Prix, although understandably disappointed at his early retirement.
Starting from 14th place on a wet but rapidly drying track, Webber made a last minute decision to start the 58-lap race on dry-weather grooved tyres. The 26-year old Jaguar Racing driver moved rapidly forward off the start, passing Giancarlo Fisichella under brakes at the first turn to move into 13th. A Safety Car period on lap eight to remove the stricken Jordan of Ralph Firman, closed the field back up and allowed those drivers who had been forced to make an early stop for dry tyres, including Schumacher and eventual race winner, David Coulthard, to regain lost ground.
Once the tyres had regained operating temperature after the restart, Webber ran a strong sixth, behind Schumacher and ahead of Coulthard but was forced to retire on lap 16 with a rear track rod failure.
“Both my car and Antonio’s suffered the same failure” Webber said afterwards, “and the engineering guys will be onto that tomorrow. But, the encouraging thing was the genuine pace of the car once the early laps had panned out.
“The changing weather conditions tended to mask the true outcome of people’s fuel and tyre choices that would have been apparent if we’d had a fully dry first stint in the race. However, I’m really pleased how well our car was travelling and the fact that the team made a string of good calls all weekend.
“Our fuel and tyre choice for qualifying was always aimed at the best race performance and we sacrificed a few grid spots as a result. But it was the right decision. I’d intended to start on intermediates but once we pulled up on the grid, the track was drying before our very eyes. We left it very late and the team left the final decision to me, but we switched to the grooved dry tyres at the last moment.”
“The Michelins I chose were very consistent but did take a lap or so to really get going,” Webber said. “We were easing away from DC and I’d have to say it was looking quite strong until the suspension failure. The encouraging thing that the team can take from the weekend is that we have a car with a fair bit of potential and the team made a whole lot of decisions throughout the weekend which were the right ones. If we continue the hard work, I reckon we could surprise a few people. To be honest, I wish Malaysia was tomorrow. I can’t wait.”
Footnote: Fans can chat to Mark about yesterday’s race on-line at www.markwebber.com later today (Monday, March 10) at 7pm AEST; 8am in UK and 9am in central Europe.
Mark Webber is the Team Principal of MW Arden, a three car team in the new GP3 series supporting European Grands Prix.