Mark Webber scored his first top six finish of the season with a gritty drive into sixth place in the European Grand Prix at Nurburgring, Germany today. The result has now moved the 26-year old Australian into 11th place in the World Drivers Championship, one point adrift of Jenson Button and Giancarlo Fisichella, while Jaguar Racing is now equal seventh with Sauber in the Constructors’ title race with Jordan a further two points ahead.
After qualifying 11th for the 60-lap race behind Cristiano de Matta, Webber was keen to pass the Toyota driver early as he felt the Brazilian would probably slow his pace. A good start saw Webber braking on the outside for the hairpin but he needed to be cautious to avoid being hit as he tried to move back to the inside, allowing Jenson Button to move ahead. However, Mark re-passed the Englishman at turn two. Da Matta braked early for turn three and Webber was neatly boxed in by Button who re-took the position, At the end of the first lap, Da Matta headed Button and Webber in 10th place.
Button and Webber continued to scrap for position, with only half a second separating them and the Jaguar R4 clearly the faster car. Webber pitted on lap 15 and Button following a lap later. Once the order had settled down again, Webber emerged in 13th spot, with Nick Heidfeld having gained a position after starting from the pit lane and thus being able to run a longer first stint.
Webber had a difficult few laps after his pit stop with the balance of his car but later began to reduce the gap on Olivier Panis in the other Toyota, who was busy dicing with Button.
Button and Webber made their second pit stops within a couple of laps of each other but a strong in-lap combined with good work in the pits, enabled Webber to leapfrog the BAR driver to move into eighth place and back behind Da Matta!
Webber’s race for a top six finish came alive in the final stint when Da Matta spun which promoted him to seventh. .And, with Button making no impression and actually losing time behind him, Webber looked on course for another seventh place finish. However, with just three laps to go, fifth-placed David Coulthard spun while pressing Fernando Alonso, this promoting Mark to sixth at the chequered flag.
Said Webber afterwards, “I made a bit of a mistake by opting to leave the front tyres on in the first pit stop as I thought they would have been better for the second part of the second stint. But, I lost way too much time in the first five or six laps which wasn’t good. The crucial part of the race for us was when we pipped Jenson in the pit stop, and full marks to the boys for the good job they did in both stops.
“We’ve now scored nine points in the last five races, so we’re definitely heading in the right direction. The last two races we’ve learnt a lot more about our tyre partner, Michelin, and we’re constantly trying to improve in every single area we can for the next race.”
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Mark Webber is the Team Principal of MW Arden, a three car team in the new GP3 series supporting European Grands Prix.