Mark Webber perfectly harnessed the pent up emotion in the wake of the front wing controversy in the most emphatic way possible: a lights-to-flag victory ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
The Australian made an excellent getaway from the dirty side of the grid, and fended off the aggressive squeeze from team-mate Sebastian Vettel into Copse, and would have all his Christmases come at once when Vettel veered off circuit at Becketts with a rear puncture.
With the puncture believed to have been caused by a brush with Hamilton’s McLaren – the second time in as many races that the duo have touched at the first corner – Vettel toured slowly back to the pits and began a remarkable recovery drive that would net him a seventh-placed finish by the end of the 52-lap race.
His cause was most certainly helped by a Safety Car interruption that compressed the field, in addition to a controversial drive-through penalty awarded to Fernando Alonso.
Alonso was largely in the wars on Sunday, suffering a dreadful start that cost him several places off the line before clashing with team-mate Felipe Massa, puncturing the Brazilian’s rear tyre and sending him to the pits as well.
A mid-race passing move on Robert Kubica into Club was what was the linchpin for the drive-through penalty, as the Pole forced Alonso off-circuit. Alonso took advantage be rejoining on the inside, and then ahead of Kubica, and did not redress the position change.
Shortly thereafter, Kubica retired with a differential failure, leaving the impending position switch largely academic, but the Race Stewards (which included 1992 World Champion Nigel Mansell on the panel) saw things differently, and slapped the double World Champion with a contentious drive-through penalty, at precisely the same point as the Safety Car was deployed for debris littering the track when Pedro de la Rosa’s Sauber tried to shed its rear wing.
The timing of this completely ruined Alonso’s race and further sought to give the Spaniard grounds for another expected post-race tirade against the rulemakers, and he rejoined at the rear of the field and with no hope of salvaging any points.
The final nail in the coffin came with a third visit to the pits to correct a puncture, earned courtesy of a clash with Vitantonio Liuzzi.
At the front of the field, Webber held position ahead of Hamilton, and the order was not changed when the duo made their sole pit stops to change to the harder-compound Bridgestone tyres.
But Webber’s Red Bull was in a class of its own, posting fastest laps seemingly at will and holding a comfortable lead until he eased off the gas in the closing laps.
Rosberg returned Mercedes GP to the rostrum for the first time since the Chinese Grand Prix, despite the loss of a barge board after a bit of panel-rubbing with Jaime Alguersuari’s Toro Rosso.
Right behind him was Jenson Button, who recovered brilliantly after an appalling qualifying session by dint of a great opening lap and pitting later than his rivals.
Rubens Barrichello earned Williams back-to-back top-five finishes, and he was trailed by Kamui Kobayashi, who gave Sauber its best result of the season with another solid performance for the Swiss team.
Behind them came Sebastian Vettel, who muscled his way past Adrian Sutil on the penultimate lap and led home a quartet of Germans that also included Michael Schumacher and Nico Hülkenberg.
But the main praise went Webber’s way for a great drive – a metaphorical one-finger salute, if you will – after the frustration of yesterday’s front-wing fiasco.
Webber stated “Not bad for a number-two driver!”, to which Horner asked: “Are you going to start smiling now?”
The post-race debrief will certainly be interesting indeed…
[Original images via GP Update]
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