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Michael Bailey , Formula One correspondent
Sunday, July 8, 2012
Mark Webber demonstrated his championship credentials with a sumptuous drive at a sun-kissed Silverstone – turning up the heat on Fernando Alonso with a “special victory”.
After days of struggle, disappointment and definitely water, the motorsport gods delivered a gorgeous day and a compelling race to remind everyone why the queues, costs and complaints are worth it.
No sign of the deluges that broke up Saturday’s qualifying and would have made racing impossible, let alone allowing the public – about 120,000 in number – to get in and watch.
Instead, Silverstone glistened in the sunshine as Webber used all his fight and nous – and no doubt a bit of that craft he learnt while living in Attleborough – to bring home his second win of a nip and tuck 2012, and close the gap on Alonso’s Ferrari in the championship chase.
“I love racing everywhere, but here it is extra special – I won my first race here in 1996 in a Formula Ford, so the love affair continues,” said Webber after his ‘home’ race, taking his fourth successive F1 podium at Silverstone – and his second win over the same period.
“We will enjoy today’s result. Really soak it up. That’s what is important. You have to remember how hard we work for these results.
“It’s a long, long season and I’m not getting too fired up about any particular championship positions at the moment. But what is for sure is that I have a nice haul of points to keep going with.”
Alonso was pole-sitter after effectively powerboating his way through Silverstone’s rivers and lakes on Saturday with his usual class, and while the conditions were at the other extreme come Sunday it looked like the Spaniard’s Ferrari was set for successive 2012 and Silverstone victories as he led from lights out and opened up the gap.
But Webber was cool, calm and quick – ravaging Alonso’s sizeable lead over the final stages by more than a second a lap, before pulling out a move at Brooklands the Spaniard would have appreciated.
The Australian then disappeared into the distance for the final four laps and on to the chequered flag, champagne and adulation.
Coming home just behind was enough to preserve Alonso’s championship lead – but the Spaniard’s joy at another hefty points finish was missing, as you would expect.
“Just after the race there is a strange feeling of losing victory,” said Alonso. “But it’s the same 18 points you get if you are thrid and overtake the guy in second on the last lap. It’s the same second, but different feelings – but I’m sure soon I will appreciate it much more.”
With their Milton Keynes home just down the road, Red Bull’s victory was worthy of a smile for the British support. But the elephant in the room for the buoyant – metaphorically on Sunday, literally 24 hours earlier – Silverstone crowd was the real home focus.
Qualifying left McLaren scratching: Lewis Hamilton outside the top seven and Jenson Button failing to make the first cut. Yet both talked Saturday afternoon of hopes for the race, of causing a surprise, if only the weather would let up.
Maybe they were calling the bluff of those aforementioned motorsport gods. If so, McLaren came a cropper pretty quickly.
The signs were ominous as the desperation betrayed praise from Hamilton’s engineer Andy Latham over the team radio. Taking on the hard tyres from the start proved to be the wrong call, as everyone else in contention snatched time on the softs.
Briefly leading Alonso was as good as it got. In the end Lewis came home where he started, losing places and having lost patience.
Button flirted with progress but never really had the balance to push, at least salvaging a point from scraping into the top 10.
But that is only seven points from six races for Jenson, while McLaren have been relegated to fourth in the constructors’ championship. Forget the pressure at their home race; those at Woking need a result at Hockenheim in a fortnight’s time.
“It was good to get a point…but that’s not what we ought to be doing: we’re a front-running team and we’ve got a bit of work to do,” added Button.
“I’m a bit sorry for the Silverstone fans, because they’ve been truly amazing this weekend. Like them, we wanted a lot more from today’s result.”
The surprise heat seemed to go to everyone’s head in the opening laps. Webber and Alonso’s sprint off the line saw the pair joust – almost terminally – while the third and final home favourite Paul di Resta was out without completing a flying lap.
The Scot’s Force India was clipped at The Loop and the resulting damage proved far more hefty than his initial puncture, bringing Di Resta’s first DNF of the season.
Felipe Massa finally proved Ferrari’s pace is not the sole preserve of Alonso. Asked if his tyres were OK, the Brazilian responded by taking Michael Schumacher in style on his way to fourth – his best outing of the season, and by some distance.
But he did not have quite enough to pressure Sebastian Vettel, who was as solid as he was anonymous on his way to a third podium of the 2010 and 2011 champion’s title defence.
The sunshine played havoc down at Sauber too: that seemed the only logical conclusion after Kamui Kobayashi inexplicably overshot a pit stop and skittled to the floor one side of his own pit crew. After medical assessments, the stricken team members were safely returned with nothing worse than a dislocated thumb. Kobayashi apologised for his over-enthusiasm after the race.
And the Japanese driver’s team-mate will probably hope for an apology of his own, after his race was ended on lap three after Pastor Maldonado lost control of his Williams and slid the Mexican out of the race. Maldonado finished 16th, with team-mate Bruno Senna in the points.
“He is a very stupid driver,” Perez said of Maldonado. “I don’t understand the way he is driving. “This guy will never learn if they don’t do something, because he is a very dangerous driver and he can hurt someone.”
In the end Silverstone had it all – which is why, despite the problems, everyone will do it again next year.
And Mark Webber will be hoping it’s as defending champion.