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GP Week : Issue 144
38 2011 has been a frustrating year for the world champion’s team-mate, but Mark Webber took full advantage of Sebastian Vettel’s gearbox gremlins in Brazil to seal his one and only win of the year. Memories on which to feed over the winter, says Peter Windsor. LAST GASP FOR THE AUSSIE BATTLER I t looked, from the outside, like your standard-issue Seb Vettel grand prix weekend: a slowish start on Friday, followed by a brisk FP3... a pole ... and then a clean start. If you looked a little deeper, though, you saw a grand prix with a difference. Mark Webber, who for reasons best known to the inhabitants of the Outer Universe hadn’t won a race this year, not only qualified second but also carved out a lap only shades slower than Seb’s. In a season dogged by gaps of two or three-tenths or more, that represented a quantum shift in the potential fortunes of Aussie Grit. It’s no secret that Young Seb is around 5kg lighter than Tall Mark, and that this sort of difference can be huge when you’re talking subtle weight distributions within identical cars. Mark’s 1min 12.099 (relative to Seb’s 1min 11.918sec lap) therefore probably stands as his best of the year. Not many noticed it, of course, because the hoopla after qualifying was about Seb breaking Nigel Mansell’s 1992 record of 14 poles in one season. Seeing as how Nigel failed to start from the pole on only two occasions that year and that Seb in 2011 has missed out in four races, it’s difficult to see what the fuss is all about. No-one made a big deal of Nigel’s 14 poles in 1992; they were just a part of a great season. Likewise it has been with Seb. Besides, statistics in F1 are for the most part meaningless, given the changes that have taken place over the years. When Juan Fangio dominated the 1955 Championship, for example, there were but six races (excluding the Indy 500). Fangio was on the pole for four of those; he raised his hat to his team-mate, Stirling Moss, at Aintree – which effectively leaves just the Belgian GP at Spa (which Fangio won after starting second). Does that make his season any less impressive than Seb’s or Nigel’s? Of course not. Over on Mark’s side of the garage (as the Aussie memorably phrased it at Silverstone in 2010), there was little talk of the 15 poles – or of Nigel. Instead, Mark and Ciaron Pilbeam (son of Mike Pilbeam, the former BRM designer), began to think (whilst talking of other important elements of strategy) about the things that could possibly go wrong. Victory was but an RB7-length away. Given the way things have gone in 2011, this was a breakthrough. You don’t anticipate disaster but the nagging feeling remains. “Have we thought of this...?”“What happens if he does that...?” Mark was very relaxed early on race day – “Feeling good this morning, matey....” – and so the suspicion was enforced. Somehow, some way, this race was heading in the direction of Mark Webber. Even the situation at that messy thing they call the start looked promising. Although Mark has tended to drop backwards on the opening lap this year, he won twice from P2 on the grid in 2010 – and he won Brazil ‘09 from the same position. The run to the first corner (the Senna Esses) is relatively short and downhill at Interlagos: even if you’re a tad tardy you can kind-of hold position – particularly, as was the case with the even- number qualifiers, if you’re starting from the inside. As it happened, Mark made a good start – which just about makes it his best start of 2011. He stayed to the left of centre, arrow- straight. From there, no-one was going to turn left before he did. Alongside him, on the grippier side of the grid, and in a car known for its jackrabbit launch, Jenson Button began to crowd. Mark braked as late as he dared, paid the penalty with some mid- corner understeer...but had the position. Second position. Ahead, thanks to Marks’ mini-moment, Seb was already a couple of lengths clear. The next two laps would be crucial. Without DRS, Mark could defend. Once Jenson could flatten his wing on the back straight it would be a different story – particularly as the McLaren had been 7kph quicker than the RB7 through the speed traps in qualifying, when both had been running with the rear wings flattened. Mark drove carefully through the opening lap, watching the kerbs and his Brembos, leaving margin whenever it was easy to lock a still- coldish inside front. And he forged a bit of a gap, for Jenson had had to defend a little from the attacks of one Fernando Alonso. Lap two, though, was tense. Mark was too conservative under brakes into the Senna Esses, and Jenson was tucked in behind him as he headed down the back straight. Mark avoided his mirrors and concentrated on braking perfection. Jenson was right there – and if the DRS had been open then probably he would have slipped past. Jenson didn’t, though. He was close but not close enough. Mark, head down, accelerated up towards the quaintly-named Little Orange Tree Corner. No way Jenson would try there – or on the remainder of the lap. Lap three was the clincher. Mark braked