Australian Mark Webber was delighted after scoring his second ever podium finish in today’s incident-packed, rain-lashed European Grand Prix when he finished a superb third in the 60-lap thriller at the Nurburgring. Webber’s success also marked the second ever podium finish for the young Red Bull Racing team.
The race was held amid changing weather conditions and was barely a lap old when the first spots of rain appeared. Weather predictions of a light passing shower proved incorrect as the track was hit by a deluge of water which sent the cars scurrying into the pit lane at the end of the first lap for intermediate tyres. Two laps later, track conditions had become so bad that no less than six cars slid off at the first corner and the organising body, the FIA, had no option but to suspend the race and re-start it under the Safety Car once everyone had re-assembled on the grid. Some were luckier than others; the majority of those who came to grief at turn one were instantly out of the race but McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton was helped back onto the circuit by a crane and drove his way to the back of the grid! Also fortunate were BMW pairing, Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica, who had clashed twice on the opening lap; their mechanics were busy making repairs as the grid lined up!
At the re-start, the drivers lined up behind the Safety Car in the order they were at the red flag, with a surprise leader in the shape of Markus Winkelhock (making his F1 debut for Spyker) who had pitted for intermediate tyres at the end of the formation lap! Webber was nicely placed too in fourth position despite a poor get-away at the original start when he lost two positions to the Toyotas of Ralf Schumacher and Jarno Trulli. However, Webber got Schumacher back at turn one, passed the two BMWs when they touched before overtaking Trulli at turn five.
The race stayed under the control of the Safety Car for three laps before going back to green. Rookie Winkelhock was quickly engulfed by Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso, while Coulthard got the better of Webber as they tried to pass the Spyker driver.
However, it was a short-lived state of affairs as Webber re-passed Coulthard a lap later before settling behind Massa and Alonso in third. Kimi Raikkonen and Alex Wurz were the first onto dry weather tyres on lap 11 followed by everyone one else a lap or two later. Raikkonen did well to get ahead of Webber for third while Wurz was right on Webber’s tail. Wurz though, had his mirrors full of the charging Heikki Kovalainen who nipped past the Williams driver on lap 18 and started to reel Webber in hand over fist.
The gap came down to less than half a second but try as he might, the Finn was unable to find a way through. The reason for Kovalainen’s pace became apparent when he pitted as early as lap 26, leaving Wurz to take the challenge back to Webber. Their battle for fourth place became the battle for third when Raikkonen slowed and retired. Wurz pitted on lap 37 while Webber went to lap 41 before making his scheduled stop, returning to the field in third place almost four seconds ahead of Wurz. The dice between the two looked to have been resolved in Webber’s favour, however there was a final twist to the race when rain began failing on lap 49, calling for another round of pit stops. Massa and Alonso pitted on lap 53 while Webber and Wurz stayed out for a further lap before bolting on intermediates. The gap was 4.4s when they rejoined in third and fourth but Wurz was on a final charge, the gap closing noticeably over the remaining laps. Coming onto the final lap, there was 1.6s between the two but by the time they had arrived at the last chicane, the two were level forcing Webber to defend his third place through the final corner.
“I lost a lot of time to Alex in the first corner on the last lap when I braked and the front right just locked up,” explained Webber. “At the NGK chicane, when I started braking, I think the rears were so heavily grained that the engine braking was having a bit of fun trying to cope. I locked the rears quite heavily and so then I had to be quite defensive to finish the lap. But Alex was fair, we fought hard and clean and we both enjoyed the battle.
“This is a podium I can enjoy. We benefited from a bit of attrition – I must admit I wasn’t too disappointed when I saw Kimi retiring – but we still had to complete a 300km race and we were there at the finish with both cars. That’s called for a great effort from everyone and today’s result is really for the team.”
Webber’s six points combined with the four earned by his team-mate, David Coulthard, has pushed Red Bull Racing into sixth place in the Constructors Championship, two points behind WilliamsF1. Webber is now joint 10thin the Drivers Championship with eight points.
Mark Webber is the Team Principal of MW Arden, a three car team in the new GP3 series supporting European Grands Prix.