Mark Webber put himself right back in contention for his maiden Formula One World Championship this afternoon with a last-gasp effort to wrest victory in the British Grand Prix from Ferrari hero Fernando Alonso.
The Australian capitalised on a strategy mistake by the rival Ferrari team to close down Alonso and sweep past the Spaniard with just a handful of laps remaining.
The race itself was a slow burner by recent thrilling F1 standards with the expected rain failing to materialise, but the result keep the eight-way battle for the ultimate prize in motorsport well and truly alive.
Alonso started the race by running on the harder, theoretically slower Pirelli tyre but was able to pull away at the front of the field as Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Felipe Massa struggled to keep pace on the quicker, softer tyre compound. British hopes meanwhile took an almost instant blow as Scotsman Paul Di Resta span out of the race with only four corners gone. Starting only his second British Grand Prix, Di Resta suffered an instantaneous right-rear puncture when Romain Grosjean sliced his front wing against the back of the Scot’s Force India car.
Lewis Hamilton failed to make up ground in the opening laps while Jenson Button experienced a brief upturn in form to climb up to 13th from his 16th place starting position. Sergio Perez and Kamui Kobayashi made the best starts though, passing other cars left, right and centre as they carved their way through the pack in their nimble Sauber machines. Grosjean meanwhile had to make a time-consuming pitstop to replace his damaged front wing.
Alonso elected to once again run on the harder Pirelli tyre after his first pitstop and maintained his advantage over Webber once the Australian had made his stop for tyres. Hamilton had climbed to the front of the pack by running further into the race on his first set of tyres but rapidly fell down the order after his own pitstop, emerging just ahead of the recovering Grosjean.
The race fell into a somewhat monotonous procession thereafter as Alonso and Webber traded laptimes at the front. Behind them Felipe Massa and Sebastian Vettel had changed positions during their pitstops with Vettel now running ahead of the impressive Brazilian who was experiencing his most promising weekend in some time. The only action came when Sergio Perez attempted an overtake on Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado. Fireworks between the pair erupted after Maldonado momentarily lost control of his car and took both himself and the Mexican off the circuit, Perez verbally blasting the Spanish GP winner saying he had ‘no respect for other drivers’ and was ‘dangerous’. Team-mate Kamui Kobayashi also gave a bit of excitement when he braked too late entering his pit box. The Japanese apologised to his team after locking up and bowling over five of his own mechanics, one of whom was taken away for medical attention but was later given the all-clear.
Lewis Hamilton was in trouble after the final round of pitstops and was rapidly overwhelmed by both Romain Grosjean and Michael Schumacher, dropping him back down to the 8th place he started from. Jenson Button meanwhile was travelling in the opposite direction and was up to 11th, just outside the points. ‘A dry race wasn’t what we were expecting.’ said Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh after the race. ‘…and, undoubtedly, had it been a wet race, as was predicted, our competitiveness relative to that of our opposition would have been significantly enhanced.’ Yet the fact remains, neither Button or Hamilton are happy with where the Woking-based Mclaren team are relative to their rivals right now.
Alonso attempted to run the final fourteen laps of the race on the soft Pirelli tyre but even the Valencian Grand Prix winner was unable to keep the fragile rubber in one piece, and with just four laps remaining the irresistible Webber closed up behind the Ferrari, deployed his DRS drag-reduction system and blasted past Alonso on the long run down the Wellington straight.
Rapidly dropping the Spaniard, Webber cruised across the line for his second British Grand Prix win to the delight of the British fans, as the Australian lives just a few miles from the Silverstone track. Alonso was understandably deflated but still pleased to have collected a solid points haul while Vettel was left bemused by his lack of pace in 3rd. Massa hung on to take 4th, his best result since 2010 and just ahead of Kimi Raikkonen who led home a Lotus 5th-6th place finish. Schumacher stayed ahead of Hamilton for 7th, while Bruno Senna claimed 2 points for 9th. Jenson Button made progress in the dying laps of the race for 10th place which was a result of sorts following his dismal qualifying session on Saturday.
‘Fernando was not quite out of touch and after the last stop, my engineer Ciaron came on the radio saying that Fernando was not doing much on the option tyres.’ smiled a jubilant Webber on the podium after the race. ‘But I know Fernando is a wily old fox, I thought he was looking after the tyres and just waiting to pull the pin and go a little bit. But when I got within two seconds I thought maybe he’s in a little bit of trouble and it was real. It was completely game on when I knew the DRS was available, I made the move stick and our hard work paid off for the win. It was a cracking grand prix today; the spectators got to see a good race and I’m pleased for them.’
He surely must be even more pleased for himself.