German GP 2009
JULY 13, 2009
Race Report - The Aussie Battler comes good
It has taken him a while to break through but in Germany Mark Webber drove a brilliant race to win his first F1 victory. The Red Bull Renault was so fast that he was able to deal with a drive-through penalty and was still able to win. And he did it in style. Mark is a real sportsman and he would not have wanted it any other way. It is not just about winning. It is how you win that counts...
On Sunday morning there was rain but as the morning wore on the weather improved and the temperatures rose. Mark Webber knew that the race was his to lose. It was clear that the Red Bulls were a great deal faster than the opposition and so the only real threat to Mark's hopes of victory would come from Sebastian Vettel, and the German was stuck in fourth on the grid, with the two Brawns between him and his team-mate. All Webber really needed was for Vettel to be stuck behind a slower car in the early part of the race. Once a gap was created Vettel was never going to be able to close the gap again - just as happened to Webber himself at Silverstone...
At the start Webber went away from the line slightly more slowly than Barrichello. The two cars edged towards one another but Webber seemed to be unaware of where the Brazilian was. He said later that he thought Rubens was on his left, when in fact he was on the right. The result of this was that the two cars hit and slowed one another up. Lewis Hamilton was right behind them and tried to go to the left of both and at the first corner Webber found himself sandwiched between Hamilton on his left and Barrichello on his right. The gap closed. In the end Hamilton's rear snagged Webber's front wing. It was enough to ruin Lewis's race. He had a puncture and would tour around for a lap before being able to get repairs. By then he was a lap down and the car was damaged.
At the front Rubens had Webber in his wake with Heikki Kovalainen third from Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Vettel.
We knew then that Barrichello had a light fuel load and so he needed to be leaving Webber behind right from the word go. But that did not happen. The two tore away from Kovalainen, who was clearly holding everyone up. Initially Massa was behind him but Button soon passed the Ferrari but he could not find a way past the McLaren. Behind them Vettel was stuck behind Massa. Raikkonen tagged along as best he could and then there was a fast developing gap back to the best of the rest led by Adrian Sutil, who had Nico Rosberg on his tail.
After about 10 laps Barrichello still had Webber with him when the FIA stewards decided that Webber should be punished for hitting Barrichello. The penalty was a drive through. Normally this would destroy any hopes a driver had of a win but the Red Bull strategists quickly realised that as Barrichello and Webber were 17secs ahead of the rest and Barrichello was going to pit shortly, there was a chance that Webber could build a gap in the five or six laps he had before he had to stop and could rejoin still ahead and thus be able to go into the first round of pits stops with a chance to stay second. On paper there was no way that he would have been able to make up the difference to Barrichello, but as everyone else had lost time behind Kovalainen, Webber would get second, which was not bad in the circumstances. After the penalty was announced the team kept Mark out as long as possible without incurring the wrath of Race Control. He put the hammer down. When Barrichello pitted Webber dived into the pits, drove through and popped out still in the lead, about nine seconds ahead of the Massa, as Button and Kovalainen had both pitted as well. Webber then had five laps to make the biggest gap he could. Massa was charging along too and so the Red Bull was only around 13secs up when Weber stopped on lap 19. He knew that the two Ferraris, Vettel, Sutil, Rosberg and Kubica would all have to pit and that meant that he ought to emerge in second within about 10 laps. That was exactly what happened, but what was startling was that in addition to moving up Webber was able to wipe out the entire disadvantage to Barrichello. When Rosberg went into pitlane from second place on lap 29. Webber was second 4.7secs behind Rubens. A lap later he was 2.8secs behind and a lap after that the gap was down to 1.2secs. Barrichello was then called into the pits, earlier than he had expected. After the race he ranted and raved about this, accusing the team of losing him the race. It was not very smart. Brawn has probably the most advanced strategy software in the pitlane. It is not something they talk about, but the team is absolutely confident in it. Barrichello's lap times were not good enough to hold back Webber. It was as simple as that. The strategy picked was to avoid Barrichello losing out to Vettel as well. The key is fuel adjusted lap times and while these may not be immediately obvious they are what decide races... Barrichello's second pit stop put Webber ahead again with a lead of 15secs to Vettel. The gap increased to slightly over 20secs and stayed there. Webber pitted on lap 43, Vettel followed him in a lap later. Webber was ahead again and when the final stops were completed the story was still the same. All Webber had to do was reel off the final laps and hope that the car did not break.
He did not make it easy on himself, with the drive-through penalty, but after the race he said that it had not been deliberate.
"I lost Rubens completely off the start," he said. "I thought he had gone to the left and I went to the right and I banged into him. As soon as I hit him I said 'There he is.' It was a bit of a surprise. That is not normally my style."
Webber felt the penalty was harsh. "I was shattered when I was told I have got a drive-through. I thought 'My God, I am absolutely cruising here behind Rubens. I know he is short. I know everything is under control.' And a drive-through is very harsh for anyone in any Grand Prix, so I had to recover. My engineer kept me calm and I pushed as hard as I could when I needed to. It is a great day for me."
All the more so because last winter Webber broke his leg and shoulder in a cycling accident. It kept him out of action all winter and when he returned at the start of the year he now admits that he was not 100%.
"I have had great people around me to recover from the injuries that I had," Webber said. "The team had been incredibly patient with me as well and I want to thank Dietrich (Mateschitz) and Red Bull for what they did for me. I think I was kidding myself a little bit. I thought I was ready to go for winter testing but I wasn't. It is absolutely clear that the leg was a long way from healed. It was still broken. It was just the metal holding it in place, so it has come a long way since then. Time has been a little bit on my side. I was lucky that Melbourne was put back a little bit in the calendar and a few things have gone my way, so along with having fantastic people around me, like Roger (Cleary), my physio. I always stayed positive and I knew that looking at the times Sebastian was doing in testing the car was going to be quick. That gave me incredible motivation to be ready."
There was more than a little irony in the situation in Germany because it was exactly the same story as Silverstone - but in reverse.
"I thought now I know how Sebastian felt and it is a nice way to be able to control a Grand Prix," Webber said. "The first stint I got held up a lot by Rubens at Silverstone and that makes it difficult. But all of us know that. All of us know that it is very difficult to overtake. These cars, you know, the braking is so late and they are so even, in so many areas on the track it is difficult to stay close. It is a challenge for us to jump people even when they are in trouble. You need free air, good quali, and that is when you can get the job done."
Vettel was disappointed to be second but given that he was sixth at the end of the first lap, this was a good performance.
"In the end it was a good recovery," he accepted. "It was quite a bad start and then all the KERS cars around me. I got passed by both McLarens and then even Felipe, so it was quite difficult. You start fourth and then go into the first corner maybe eighth or something. And then basically I struggled a lot in the first stint. I was in traffic and you know altogether we are four or five cars. Obviously I could have gone quite a bit quicker but there was no way to pass Felipe. I was lucky to have the right strategy and in the end that brought us back to second position but Felipe didn't stop pushing, so it was quite hard until the end of the race. Of course I wanted to win but yesterday Mark did a better job and that is why he totally deserved to win. He was quicker."
Finding a Ferrari in third place this year is quite a thing and Felipe Massa had to take the credit for that. He made a great start and went from eighth to fourth on the first lap. He then lost a place to Button but then found himself stuck behind Kovalainen and Jenson. He had a decent fuel load and that meant that as others peeled off into pitlane he moved up and between laps 20 and 25 he was leading the race. The stops helped him jump from what had been fifth to third, and there he stayed all the way to the flag.
"The car was good, the pace was reasonable," he said. "When I was on soft tyres at the beginning I was not as quick as Sebastian and Rubens and Mark but that was with a lot of fuel in the car. The second stint was pretty good. I was following Sebastian, even catching him. Sometimes at the end of the stint he started pulling away slightly but in the last stint the car was good on the hard tyres as well. I am very happy. I am very happy that everyone in the team did a great job on the strategy, on the pit stops, so I think having a good result like this, a podium will definitely motivate the people to keep working, to keep pushing hard."
Things did not go so well for Kimi Raikkonen. He was seventh early on. The first stops did not help him and on lap 28 Sutil came out of the pits and tried to stay ahead of the Ferrari. It was not a smart move.
"These things happen in racing," said Kimi. "We spoke to one another and I think that he also sees it that way, as did the Stewards."
It was the end of a dream for the Force India team. Sutil has started seventh and lost a place during the first lap. He had a lot of fuel onboard the car and so moved up the order and on lap 25 found himself in second place. Two laps later he pitted and then encountered Raikkonen.
"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."
That meant another stop for a new nose and he ended up 15th. A little more patience and some commonsense and the team would have scored points...
Giancarlo Fisichella ended up 11th after quite a strong race and it was clear that the Force Indias had managed to find some good pace.
The fourth man home was Nico Rosberg, which was a major achievement from 15th on the grid.
"I honestly wasn't expecting too much but I took a few chances on the opening lap and finished it in ninth place," he said. "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."
Things did not go as well for Kazuki Nakajima (Do they ever?). He was hit by Jarno Trulli on the first lap and dropped to the tail of the field as a result.
"My race was ruined from there," he said. He finished 12th.
The team was also delighted to see Webber winning. The Australian was a Williams man for several years and was popular with the troops at Grove.
In the end the Brawns finished fifth and sixth, which was not a great result given that they started second and third. The light fuel loads were wasted as Barrichello could not get away from Webber at the front and Button was stuck behind Kovalainen all the way to the stops.
After the race Rubens was upset at the strategies picked by the team which dropped him behind Jenson in the closing laps.
"I did all I had to do. I went first on the first corner, and then they made me lose the race," Rubens railed. "If it is really what's going on, we're going to end up losing both championships. To be very honest, I wish I could get on the plane and go home. I don't want to talk to anyone in the team. It will be all 'blah, blah, blah' and I don't want to hear that."
Rubens was not helped by a slight delay caused by a fuel rig and then his radio was not working well and so he was not able to hear what the team wanted him to do. But Barrichello's believe that he could have won the race was flawed.
"If he sits down and looks at the numbers he will realise we were too slow," said Ross Brawn. "Those are the facts. If we had been quicker then we would have won the race, but we were too slow. Mark had a drive-through and was still back in front of us after a few laps. When you are cocooned inside the car and the radio is not working you don't get a good picture of what's going on."
The numbers backed Brawn up. Barrichello's best lap was only the 11th fastest lap of the race. You cannot win races with lap times like that.
Button was less upset by the end of the race, but four points was not great.
"All points are valuable," he said, "but my race started badly and didn't get much better today. I had a poor start and fell back to fifth after the first turn. I was able to get ahead of Massa at the start of the second lap but I was stuck behind Kovalainen. His pace was way off what we could have achieved at that point of the race but there was just no way through. We struggled with graining and tyre degradation throughout with both tyres not working well for us. The problem with the fuel rig at Rubens' second stop also affected my race as we were so close on the track and he was struggling with the prime tyre. So overall it has been a tough and disappointing day for the team. In Hungary we will have new parts and hopefully warmer weather to take the fight to the Red Bulls."
Fernando Alonso finished seventh for Renault - despite a spin on the parade lap as he tried to get heat in his tyres.
"My start was very poor," he said. "We lost quite a few positions before the first corner. 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."
Nelson Piquet finished 13th, also complaining of being unable to warm his tyres.
The final point went to Kovalainen. He held up many of the fast men early on but then dropped from third to eighth during the stops. And there he stayed.
"If you'd told me on Friday that I would score points today, I wouldn't have believed it," he said. "This weekend has been difficult - it's been hard to get the tyres working and to find grip - but we kept pushing throughout. It was a hard way to earn points but we can be satisfied about it. I'm now really looking forward to the Hungarian Grand Prix, when I'll get my hands on the full aero upgrade package for the first time."
Hamilton's dreams of glory were ruined at the first corner after which there seemed to be little point.
"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," said Lewis. "But that is racing. The best thing about this weekend was that our updates were successful. The team has done a fantastic job over the last few weeks."
It was a bad weekend for Toyota as well with Timo Glock finishing ninth and Trulli 17th. Both drivers started on heavy fuel loads and on the softer tyres. Jarno was hit by Nakajima, forcing him to pit for a new front wing on lap two. He returned to the track in 19th but set some fast laps even if he was not able to move through the traffic. Glock went for a one-stop strategy and it worked quite well but ninth brought no points.
"I am reasonably satisfied with my performance today," he said. "We had a good strategy after what happened in qualifying yesterday but unfortunately I had some traffic in the first stint which cost me time. I only had around four laps without traffic all day but when I had a clear track I was quick."
Behind Timo was Nick Heidfeld's BMW Sauber and with Robert Kubica 14th this was another weekend to forget for the Swiss-German team.
"We had the speed to score points, which obviously hasn't always been the case this year," said Heidfeld. "Then the first stint wasn't easy with the heavy fuel load but during the middle stint I was able to catch up until I lost some time behind slower cars."
Kubica said that he had done what was possible with the equipment he had available.
It was another lacklustre day for Scuderia Toro Rosso.
Sebastien Buemi finished 16th while Sebastien Bourdais retired with an hydraulic problem early on. The word in the paddock was that we will not be seeing the Frenchman again...
France may be struggling to find a new F1 star but Australia has had to wait for 28 years since the last victory was scored by Alan Jones in Las Vegas in 1981. Webber was beside himself with joy at the end.
"I wanted to win so badly," he said. "There are not many Australian drivers who have reached Formula 1 and few have been successful. It's a real message to the Australian people. I've always tried to represent my country as best as I can. We're a very proud sporting nation. There are a few people who doubted me , so hello to them!"