After the team’s disappointment at the Brazilian Grand Prix, Mark Webber gave BMW Williams F1 a timely morale boost with a gutsy drive to fourth place in today’s 53 lap Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
The Australian driver fought hard all afternoon and spent most of the race in third – a position he was still occupying with four laps remaining. However, Webber had to concede the final podium position to a fast-finishing Fernando Alonso who had driven equally as well from 16th on the grid.
Webber got away cleanly at the lights and gained one position when Takuma Sato ran wide off the track forcing Michael Schumacher to take a temporary excursion into the gravel. Webber then passed Red Bull’s Christian Klein at the last chicane. The safety car was activated though on lap two, after Juan Pablo Montoya crashed heavily and the field completed five laps under caution with Webber running in fifth spot. When the race went back to green Webber spent the rest of the first stint glued to the rear of David Coulthard’s Red Bull and moved into fourth position when early race leader Ralf Schumacher pitted for his first scheduled stop. Pole sitter Giancarlo Fisichella was the next to pit on lap 19, promoting the battling Coulthard and Webber into 2nd and 3rd respectively. The pair pitted together on lap 22 and it was the BMW Williams F1 team who made the quickest turn-around with Webber exiting the pits ahead of the Red Bull car.
Webber rejoined the race in 6th position only 2.2 seconds behind BAR’s Jenson Button, a deficit he began to reduce. Button responded and the pair matched each other’s lap times while behind Kimi Raikkonen who was making blinding progress from the rear of the field to close within a second of the Williams driver. Soon there was a three-way scrap for second spot and that looked set to become a four-way scrap as Alonso zoomed into view. However, Alonso pitted before he caught the battle, his Renault teammate and race leader Fisichella pitted a lap later and when
he rejoined he was bang on the tail of the leading trio; which was Button, Webber and Raikkonen. Button and Webber though, peeled off into the pits together on lap 41 and again slick pit work from the Williams boys insured Webber got out ahead. After Ralf Schumacher pitted for the third time and Coulthard and Raikkonen made their second stop the order going into the last nine laps was Fisichella, Raikkonen, Webber and Alonso. Webber did everything he could to keep the new World Champion at bay but the Renault package proved superior and after getting a good run out of the last chicane onto the straight, Fernando was able to power past and snatch third place in the closing stages.
Although clearly disappointed to miss out on a podium position for the team, Webber said; “I couldn’t have picked worse guys to race against for a podium, McLaren’s and Renaults! I drove my balls off but we just didn’t have enough in reserve and the team told me to back off the power as we were already into un-chartered waters with the engine in terms of pushing it that hard.
“Yes it’s good for Williams to be the best of the rest this weekend, but it would have been nice to get a podium. I pushed hard all race but I lost a lot of time behind Jenson in the second stint. The first time I looked at my pit board to check my position was after my last pits-stop, I saw third and thought ‘this is okay’, but realised I had Fernando to deal with. I have to say a big thank you to the boys in the team for doing great pit-stops, especially Matty on the fuel rig. “
Mark Webber Media