It was a weekend of extremes for Red Bull Racing’s drivers at Valencia. While one of them suffered, the other celebrated, and vice versa. Their various misfortunes allowed Fernando Alonso to sneak through and win the European Grand Prix.
First, it was the turn of Mark Webber to suffer some reliability pain. A master cylinder problem on his RB8 left him unable to turn a lap during Saturday’s final practice session and no sooner had it been fixed than a DRS failure affected his car during qualifying. It cost him nearly 1.5s per lap and relegated him to 19th on the grid.
Seb Vettel, meanwhile, dominated qualifying. He took pole position by 0.4s, which was a mammoth gap given that the top 10 cars were separated by 0.2s during Q2. It was his third consecutive pole position around the tortuous 25-corner Valencia Street Circuit, and such was his dominance that there was an air of inevitability about Sunday’s race.
In F1, though, you can never count your chickens because 24 hours later it was Seb’s turn to rue a mechanical problem, which brought his race to a premature end. He’d dominated the early stages, but a mid-race Safety Car negated that advantage and soon after the re-start an alternator problem ground his RB8 to a halt. Twenty five world championship points gone begging.
“Until the problem,” says Sebastian, “I was very happy with the car. We were very fast; we had the pace to win the race. There’s nothing we can do about it now, other than try to understand the problem and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Webber, on the other hand, was carving his way through the field – on a track that’s renowned for its lack of overtaking opportunities. He made up two places at the start and quickly became involved in a six-car battle for 10th place soon afterwards.
“It was a bit like Formula Ford out there,” says Mark. “We were running three abreast into corners and it was a bit close between us on occasions. In the end, I realised that I was losing too much time in this gaggle of cars, so I pitted for new tyres and after the Safety Car period I was able to make really good progress.”
The only positive outcome to Mark’s miserable qualifying session was that he had two new sets of the faster, soft-compound Pirelli tyres available to him in the race. That was at least one set more than the front-runners, whose scrubbed rubber suffered in the high track temperatures of 45 degrees, and he was able to make a concerted charge at the end of the race.
With nine laps to go, he was lying 10th, yet he finished fourth. On lap 56 alone he made up three places and he crossed the line less than 1s behind third-placed Michael Schumacher.
“It was a good result in the end,” says Mark. “There was a bit of unreliability at the front, but we’ll take that because it happens sometimes. The car performed well, but strategy was still a lottery as we wondered until after half distance whether two stops was the right way to go. The team did a great job today.”
For two hours after the race Mark hoped that he would be promoted to third after video evidence showed that Schumacher had used his DRS in a yellow flag zone. However, the stewards decreed that Schumacher had slowed down enough and didn’t punish him.
Mark now lies second in the world championship, 20 points behind leader Alonso. That’s a margin of less than one victory.
“If you’d told me this morning that I would have finished the race fourth and would be lying second in the world championship, I wouldn’t have believed you. It was a 1000-1 chance. It’s been a good day at the office.”
The next race on the calendar is the British Grand Prix, where Mark won in 2010. “I love Silverstone,” he says. “I live in the UK, so it feels like a second home race, along with Melbourne. It would be great to get back in the podium.”
DAN THE MAN
Daniel Ricciardo continued to dominate his Toro Rosso team-mate in Valencia. He out-qualified Jean-Eric Vergne for the seventh time in eight races to line up 17th on the grid and he battled his way through to 11th at the chequered flag, despite having a collision with Vitaly Petrov in the closing laps.
“The final result is disappointing,” says Dan, “because I think I drove well. The Safety Car didn’t work in our favour and as for the incident with Petrov, he was going slowly and I tried to overtake him. He was a bit too aggressive and that ended my chance of finishing in the points.”