When I published my mid-season driver rankings a couple of weeks ago, Pink Peril rebuked me for not placing Mark Webber higher. I explained that Webber was yet to win an F1 race in his career, and winning is the bottom line.
Well he now has that win. And it was a truly dominant win at that. His car was clearly majestic at the Nürburgring, but he also comprehensively outclassed Sebastian Vettel all weekend. Not only that, but Webber did this even when his typical bad luck hit him.
Webber’s drive-through penalty did seem a bit harsh. He clearly made a move across into Barrichello’s portion of the track, so there was the potential for there to be a nasty accident. But both drivers were in control of the situation. Plus, Michael Schumacher did this sort of thing on a race-by-race basis without the FIA so much as raising its eyebrows.
You would never have guessed he had a drive-through penalty, because it didn’t seem to affect his race in the slightest. This was helped by the fact that the Red Bull team cleverly kept him out for as long as possibble before he had to serve his penalty, ensuring that he had time to build up more of a gap. This is a signal that Red Bull as a team is maturing too.
It’s worth remembering too that Mark Webber still has a chunk of metal in his right leg from his bicycle accident over the winter. It is easy enough to imagine how much of a hindrance this is in terms of confidence in the cockpit and the physical pain that may be present. But the metal also adds a load of weight to the driver. This is real hindrance particularly to someone like Webber who, being tall, is one of the heaviest drivers on the grid even without lumps of metal in his leg.
All-in-all, this makes it a big, big win for Webber. Despite all the woes that hit the Brawn team over winter, this win was more hard-fought than any of Button’s this year. A straightforward lights-to-flag victory wouldn’t be Webber’s style, but I guess that makes it all the more rewarding.
This makes both Red Bull drivers now major title contenders. If it comes to crunch time towards the end of the season, the team faces a tough choice between which of the two drivers to rely on the most — the ostensibly quicker Vettel, or the more experienced Webber? An internal Red Bull battle will play into Jenson Button’s hands.
After all, it is not difficult to guess which driver Brawn will favour. It might be strange for them to think of that given Barrichello’s extraordinary post-race outburst. I doubt the team is interested in further antagonising a driver who is clearly paranoid. But maybe if they sit him down and give him some more “blah blah blah blah blah”, he will understand that it makes no sense for a team to forfeit Button’s races in favour of a slower driver.
It is true that Barrichello led into the first corner (sort of) but on his light fuel load he was never going to be a favourite for the win here, and neither was Button. A fuel rig problem, outwith the control of the Brawn team, of course did not help matters.
Perhaps a more pressing concern to the Brawn team will be the fact that they now genuinely look like they do not have the best car. Like Britain, the German GP was particularly cool, which favours Red Bull and disadvantages Brawn. But notably, both Brawn cars finished behind a Ferrari and a Williams, two teams that had a pretty torid start to the season. The advantage they had at the start of the season has been whittled away.
It remains to be seen if the warmer races will see the pendulum swing back in Brawn’s favour. But one thing seems certain: the second half of the season won’t be nearly as easy as the first half for them.
Rubens reckons he led into the first corner, although another driver who could claim to have been leading in the first corner is Lewis Hamilton. Unfortunately, in the scramble for the first corner, he was tagged by the front wing of Webber’s car and had to trail round for the whole lap with a puncture before being able to pit. The tyre damaged his car further, meaning that his race was effectively over in turn 1.
I think Hamilton and McLaren can take a lot of heart from the weekend’s events though. Who knows how the race would have unfolded had Hamilton emerged as the leader for the first stint. He did have the third lightest fuel load on the grid, but he was heavier than the Brawns.
Fuel-adjusted, Hamilton was the third fastest in qualifying, 9 tenths ahead of Heikki Kovalainen who didn’t have the upgraded package. It looked so unlikely just a few weeks ago, but McLaren could be challenging for wins in the second half of this season.
The other major surprise up the grid was Adrian Sutil. He managed to qualify 7th which was stunning enough, but my jaw hit the floor when I saw that he had the heaviest car in the top 10! Sadly, it didn’t come together for him during the race with yet another racing incident involving Kimi Räikkönen. These things happen.
You sense that Force India are very close to their first point. In truth, a bucketful of bad luck is the only thing that has prevented them from scoring so far. Even Giancarlo Fisichella is in good form right now. During the first stint he looked very pacey indeed, overtaking a number of cars. All in all he gained nine places before making his first pit stop.
Another driver who had a great first stint was Nico Rosberg. He gained six places on lap one alone (as did Kubica, indeed, not that he could make much of it in that dog of a BMW). Rosberg continued to steadily climb throughout the race, and ultimately finished a very well-deserved fourth. Rosberg continues to impress me this season.
The Hungarian Grand Prix will be an important one, not so much for the racing (which probably won’t be very good on that circuit), but as a signal of what to expect for the rest of the season. Is Brawn’s slump more permanent, or was it a blip caused by cool conditions?