Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber made the most of the hand dealt him by a difficult qualifying session and finished on the podium at the Chinese F1 Grand Prix having started back on P18. While he's not saying it was one of the best drives of his career, it's got to be up there somewhere.
Webber ended the race just seven seconds behind race winner Lewis Hamilton to maintain his 100 percent finishing record in Shanghai.
“It was a good job,” said Mark. “The car performed well, the guys did some good pitstops for me and I had to do a bit of driving as well. I don’t want to get into the business of saying whether or not it was one of my best drives; I was just doing what I’m paid to do.”
The race made up for a disappointing qualifying session on Saturday, in which Mark was knocked out of Q1 after a strategic error saw him trying to qualify on a set of prime tyres that weren’t up to operating temperature. But this particular cloud had a silver lining because it gave Mark three sets of new option tyres for the race.
“I completed my first stint of the race on the prime tyre,” said Mark. “That allowed me to get that tyre compound out of the way while I was stuck in traffic and couldn’t lap at the car’s optimum pace. I was then free to use my three sets of new – faster – option tyres that I hadn’t used in qualifying once I’d cleared the backmarkers. It was a perfect strategy call.”
'Even though it’s possible to overtake, you don’t want to be starting 18th every weekend'
There was only one retirement in the race, which meant Mark had to overtake in order to progress. From lap 24, however, his job got harder when the KERS system on his car packed up. But he carried on unperturbed and he set the fastest lap of the race on lap 42, some 1.4s faster than anyone else.
“When I saw the car of my team-mate Sebastian Vettel ahead of me in the closing stages,” says Mark, “I initially thought it was one of the Toro Rossos! I’d been so focused on what I was doing that I hadn’t asked for my position and I couldn’t believe that I was only three seconds behind Seb, who’d started on pole position.”
That sums up what a remarkable race Mark drove in the 2011 Chinese Grand Prix, and having got his first podium of the year under his belt he can head to the next race in Turkey in the knowledge that his championship challenge is underway.
“This was a good race,” says Mark, “and there’s still a long way to go in the championship. What I need in Turkey more than anything else is a clean weekend. Even though it’s possible to overtake thanks to these new regulations, you don’t want to be starting 18th every weekend.”