Webber signals title ambitions at Silverstone
Formula One:Mark Webber proved himself a genuine world title contender this season with victory in the British Grand Prix.
Last year at Silverstone Webber was contentiously ordered to hold station behind Sebastian Vettel as he closed in on his Red Bull team-mate in the dying stages.
Today it was Webber and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso battling at the front at the death, with the former grabbing the lead on lap 48 of the 52, going on to claim the ninth victory of his career and second British win in three years.
More importantly it has allowed Webber to close the gap on Alonso at the top of the championship standings to 13 points, with Vettel having to settle for third on this occasion, and lying 29 points down.
Webber said: “It was another great day for us, a great day for me. To win here again is a fantastic feeling.”
For the Britons, in front of a sell-out 125,500 crowd, it was a day to forget as McLaren pair Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button were eighth and 10th, whilst Force India’s Paul di Resta retired after two laps.
After two days of rain that have caused havoc on and around the circuit this year, with car parks turned into mudbaths, drivers and fans were able to enjoy a dry race.
To that end, as qualifying ended in the wet yesterday, teams were given a free rein when it came to tyre choice at the start, and it was McLaren who opted for the wrong strategy.
They chose the hard compound for Hamilton and Button, while six of the seven ahead of the former - Alonso the exception - opted for the soft Pirellis.
In starting from pole and managing to get the run into the first corner, Alonso was able to make his two-stop plan work for the most part.
That was until his soft tyres in the final stint proved no match for Webber on the hards, with the Australian making his move into Brooklands with just over four laps remaining.
As for Hamilton, he finished where he started, with Ferrari’s Felipe Massa fourth ahead of Lotus duo Kimi Raikkonen and Romain Grosjean, with Mercedes’ Michael Schumacher seventh.
Hamilton now finds himself 37 points down on Alonso, with Button cast adrift in eighth, 79 points off the pace and with his title hopes fading fast.
The 32-year-old, who started 16th, at least managed to collect a point courtesy of a mistake on the penultimate lap from Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg.
For Di Resta, it was not the British Grand Prix he dreamed of as the Scot suffered his first retirement for 24 races.
Coming out of The Loop at turn five on the opening lap, Di Resta was sent spinning into the large run-off area, sustaining a left-rear puncture.
Although Di Resta managed to limp back to the pits, he sustained damage to the floor that forced him back into the garage at the end of the second lap, and ultimately out of the race.
Di Resta said: “I’ve no indication as to what happened. I don’t know if someone caught me, but I picked up a puncture, and then the heavy damage to the floor. There was no point carrying on.”
There was bitter frustration for Di Resta, felt by Sergio Perez too on lap 12 as Pastor Maldonado again proved a danger to all around him.
From the seventh and ninth positions the duo pitted together, and after returning to the track Perez was soon alongside Maldonado going into Brooklands.
Although there was enough room for Perez to go round the outside, Maldonado tried to shift to that line, only to bundle the Mexican off track and out of the race.
It was the second time in successive races Maldonado has seemingly lost the plot given his incident with Hamilton on the penultimate lap of the European Grand Prix in Valencia a fortnight ago.
And for the second successive race Maldonado faces a post-grand prix investigation by the stewards, with Perez demanding they take serious action before another driver gets hurt.
A furious Perez said: “He has no respect for other drivers. He is a very stupid driver. I don’t know why the stewards don’t take more action against him. He deserves a big penalty.
“We are risking our lives out there and if they (the stewards) don’t do something he will hurt someone. For all the drivers he is very dangerous driver on the circuit.”
Team-mate Kamui Kobayashi later proved a danger to his own pit crew as he sent four flying in coming in for his second stop at the end of lap 37.
That prompted Kobayashi into issuing a sincere apology to his team over the in-car radio, in particular as he left two of his mechanics requiring medical attention.
A delighted Webber said: “At the start Fernando had good pace, Fernando started on a different tyre to us but we never gave up and kept pushing.
“It didn’t work out for Fernando at the end, it was very, very close for him but we were able to capitalise.
“It’s a special win for the team, we are a local team based just down the road and it’s incredible for them and it’s another victory for Renault Sport in the UK and I am very proud.
“Thanks to all the fans for sticking with us over the last few days.”
Alonso remained upbeat despite being denied a second consecutive victory so late on, and echoed Webber in praising the Silverstone fans for braving the sodden conditions.
“At the end Mark was much quicker than us and he deserves the win so congratulations to him and the Red Bull team, but I am proud of Ferrari’s recovery in the last couple of weeks,” he said.
“We have fought for the wins in the last four races. Thanks to the fans for coming through the bad weather, I hope they enjoyed it.”