Australian Mark Webber, one of the most popular blokes within the sport, took his first Formula One victory Sunday in the German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring. The race was his 130th in F1. He joined Sir Jack Brabham and Alan Jones as Australian winners in Formula One. Not even changeable Eifel Mountains weather rained on his day. Victory came after a first-corner bumping around and a drive-through penalty.
Webber, who turns 33 next month, led youthful teammate Sebastian Vettel, who turned 22 a week and a half ago, to a Red Bull one-two finish. The sweep is the team's third this season but the first with Webber out front. Their main challengers, Brawn GP's Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello, who finished fifth and sixth, respectively, also hold three one-two finishes this season. Brawn and Red Bull this season replaced Ferrari and McLaren as the dominant duo in the sport.
Vettel and Webber passed Barrichello in drivers' championship points. Button, winner of six of the first seven races, remained ahead with 68 points. Vettel reached 47, Webber 45.5, and Barrichello 44. Barrichello finished the day as the only driver of the four not to win this season. He voiced his displeasure in a surprising break from typical graciousness, saying the team cost him victory. He was slowed on his second pit stop when a fuel rig malfunctioned.
"Congratulations to Mark on his first win," Button said. "I'm really pleased for him as I know how good that feels." Button, 29, needed 113 races to bag his first victory, in Hungary 2006.
Mercedes-powered Brawn GP remained ahead on constructors' points, 112, but Renault-engined Red Bull pulled to 92.5 points. Toyota held third with 34.5 and Ferrari fourth on 32.
"It's an incredible day," Webber said. "I wanted to win so badly after Silverstone, as I thought I had a good chance there. Then after yesterday's pole I knew I was in a good position to try and win the race today. The only thing that I thought was going to test me was the rain, but even that held off. It was testing to get the victory today. I lost Rubens completely at the start; I thought he was gone a little bit to the left so I went to the right and banged into him. That's not normally my style and I got a drive-through penalty for that, so had to recover. My engineer kept me calm, and I pushed as hard as I could when I needed to, so it's a great day."
Not nine months from a bicycle-car crash that broke his right leg and damaged his right shoulder, Webber had a more adventurous time from pole than he wanted. But he got there in the end. Collisions with Barrichello and with an overeager Lewis Hamilton by the first corner visited a drive-through penalty on the Aussie. He had to watch Barrichello hold the lead until pit stops altered the order. The Australian started the race fueled longer than the three-stopping Brawns, and that handful of extra laps once Barrichello stopped and turned over the initial lead let Webber overcome the penalty and leg away with the race. By Lap 40, Webber was breezing, holding a 20-second lead on Vettel.
"It was a difficult winter," Webber said. "Sebastian showed in winter testing what the car could do, so that kept my motivation very high when I was hurting a lot with all the rehab. I had great people around me to recover from all the injuries I had, and the team have been incredibly patient with me as well. I want to thank (team owner) Dietrich Mateschitz, Red Bull and everyone at Red Bull Racing for what they did for me over the winter, everyone in Australia who has supported me on the way through my career -- and there are a few people that doubted me too, so hello to them as well. It's just an incredible day for all the people who have helped me get to where I am today."
Vettel called Webber "unbeatable" and said his race turned out well, considering.
"I'm very happy with the result and in the end it was a good recovery," Vettel said. "It was quite a bad start and I had all the KERS cars around me -- I got passed by both the McLarens and even Felipe (Massa). It was quite difficult to start fourth and go into the first corner in eighth or something. I then struggled a lot with the soft tire in the first stint and was in a lot of traffic. I could have gone quicker, but there was no way to pass Felipe, as he always used the special button when I was quite close. Therefore, I was lucky to have the right strategy, as that pulled us back to second position. But Felipe didn't stop pushing, so it was hard until the end of the race. We had to fight, but it's another one-two finish for the team and I'm happy.
"I'd be lying if I said I'm very pleased with second, as, of course, I wanted to win, But yesterday Mark did a better job, and that's why today he totally deserves the win. It's a good fight between us, so I'm looking forward to the next races."
Fifth-starting Hamilton, whose McLaren Mercedes was tricked out with upgrades former team owner and current BBC announcer Eddie Jordan called "as big and comprehensive" as any the Irishman has seen, surged on KERS, connected with Webber's RB5, cut the MP4-24's right rear tire, pitted for a change, and spent the rest of the race at the back, circulating a lap down at the end.
"My race was effectively over at Turn 1," Hamilton said. "I had quite a good launch down to Turn 1, and I was braking when I felt a tap from the rear and went straight on. I think the flat tire damaged the rear floor, and it felt like I was out there driving on ice."
Ferrari's Felipe Massa and Williams F1's Nico Rosberg wedged ahead of the Brawns for third and fourth, respectively. Massa, last year's world driving championship runner-up, claimed his first podium this season.
"It's been such a long time since I made it to the podium," the father-to-be said. "I really wanted it after a very difficult first half of the season. We are improving and we will do all we can to get back to winning ways this season. I want to start hearing the Italian and Brazilian national anthems as soon as possible."
Rosberg, frequently quickest in practice this year, took his best race finish, something he didn't envision with a 15th starting spot and the grid's heaviest fuel load. He was so quick off the mark he pulled BMW Sauber's Robert Kubica with him.
"It was a fantastic result for us today," Rosberg said. "I honestly wasn't expecting too much but I took a few chances on the opening lap and finished in ninth place. 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 a 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."
Fifth for Button was "tough and disappointing," he said, after he made a poor start and got stuck behind Kovalainen. A Sunday in Germany left the points leader ready to head to Hungary, where upgrades will appear. Barrichello, too, had to face facts that the Brawns lacked the pace to stay with the Red Bulls.
"After leading on the first lap, it is of course hugely disappointing to have finished in sixth position," a calmed and perhaps chastened Barrichello said. "It was a combination of things, really, which are now very clear to me having spoken to the team."
A furious late-race scramble gave final points to Renault's Fernando Alonso, who spun on the warm-up lap and slowed in traffic through the early going before he set fast lap (1 minute, 33.365 seconds), and McLaren's Heikki Kovalainen, whose MP4-24 turned up mostly as it had left the most recent race in Silverstone, England, that is, unadorned by upgrades. So while the Finn made good progress for the team, he also held up the field for prolonged periods, giving the leaders the front.
"It was a difficult race because my start was very poor and we lost quite a few positions before the first corner," Alonso said. "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."
Kovalainen credited the power-boosting kinetic energy recovery system called KERS.
"If you'd told me Friday that I would score points today, I wouldn't have believed it," Kovalainen said. "Our KERS hybrid helped me move from sixth to third at the start. From that point on, it was all about defending. I pushed the whole time and it was a hard way to earn points but we can be satisfied about it."
Hardest done by was seventh-starting Adrian Sutil of Force India. One of five Germans in the race, Sutil reached second on a one-stop strategy. His points-scoring finish was on the cards through 28 of 60 laps, when he pitted. Sutil left the pits only to encounter, in the most direct way, the Ferrari F60 of Kimi Raikkonen. Former world driving champion Raikkonen, it will be recalled, cost the German fourth place in the rain in Monaco last year when the Finn's tunnel-exiting wrestle for control of his machine ended in the back of Sutil's. Well, deja vu and boohoo. Sunday's coming together cost Sutil his wing and the points. The extra pit stop to remount the front appendage and an additional stop on Lap 47 left him 15th. Collision or other took the fire out of Raikkonen's Ferrari, and the Finn retired on Lap 35. "Racing incident," stewards ruled after the race. Raikkonen would have told them that at the time.
"Germany definitely doesn't seem to bring me luck," Raikkonen said. "I don't know how many times a problem beyond my control has forced me to retire, and this time it was down to debris. A shame, as I think I could have got a good result. Around Lap 14 we began to see that something wasn't right and we tried to manage the situation. Then I started to lose a lot of power and the team asked me to pit because there was nothing that could be done anymore. The incident with Sutil? These things happen in racing. We spoke to one another and I think that he also sees it that way, as indeed did the stewards."
Sutil was impressively upbeat. "It was a good race for me," he said. "The start was a bit difficult but I lost just one position. In the first stint, I did really well and it was looking very promising as I was up to second by my first stop. When I went out of the pit lane, I saw Kimi Raikkonen 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's really when I thought the race was over for the points as I had to come back in. I kept pushing hard though as you never know what will happen. Overall, I think we learnt a lot. It's the first time starting in the top 10 and it's a different race up there."
Sutil teammate Giancarlo Fisichella looked headed for points as he motored in midpack from early laps -- he started 18th and was 12th by Lap 9 -- and moved into the top nine. He finished 11th as Mercedes-powered Force India continue to boost themselves from the back of the field.
After starting from pit lane for impeding Alonso during qualifying, Toyota's Timo Glock finished ninth ahead of fellow German Nick Heidfeld of BMW Sauber, who said he had the speed to reach the points but couldn't get past Sutil then couldn't get out of traffic. Kazuki Nakajima of Williams F1 ran 12th ahead of Renault second Nelson Piquet. Kubica was 14th ahead of Sutil. Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Sebastien Buemi made a quick start only to suffer grip loss on the soft compounds and ended up 16th. Jarno Trulli motored his Toyota to 17th as the Germany-based team had a forgettable day. Hamilton's 18th-finishing McLaren was the last car running.
Buemi's teammate Sebastien Bourdais was put out of the race by hydraulic pressure failure that took the power steering then the clutch then the rest. He was done before the 20th lap. A hug from a mechanic as he exited the car might have signaled the end to his F1 career.
The circus moves to Hungary in two weeks.