Monday 20 November 2017

Webber pounces close to home for Silverstone glory

Kevin Garside

A Home Counties hero delivered victory for a team based in Milton Keynes yesterday.

Nothing British about either driver or marque, or the unseasonably sunny weather come to that, but the British Grand Prix found a worthy winner in the Buckinghamshire immigrant Mark Webber, who powered his Red Bull past the Ferrari of Fernando Alonso with four laps to go.

In elite sport success is decided by fractions. A small part of the performance spike experienced by Webber was a result, he said, of dog power and sleeping in his own bed.

"I was able to get out with the dogs at the start of the day -- I can't do that at Hockenheim," said the Australian. "Whether I have a s**t day or a good one the dogs are always pleased to see me. For blokes who spend a lot of time in hotels, it was good to start race day at home."

The result, his second win this year, was timely in every respect. The season is approaching the three-week hiatus next month during which contract talks quicken. Ferrari are thought to be courting Webber. Red Bull won't want to lose him after adding the British GP to Monaco this year. He is becoming a collector of classic race victories and the numbers decorating any new deal, whoever pays out, will reflect it.

prospects

"At the start of the season I didn't have a contract for next year," said Webber. "I will work hard to stay in Formula One. This won't do my prospects any harm."

There is a heap of respect between Webber and the man squeezed into second. Yet Alonso does not want Ferrari to part with Felipe Massa. After this clinical mugging you can see why.

"I love racing everywhere but here is extra special," Webber said. "I won my first race here in 1996 in Formula Ford. The love affair continues.

"It didn't look spectacular initially but it came my way in the last stint. I'm over the moon. A good story for a team based near here. The fans have put up with a lot this weekend but we ended in sunny weather.

"I'm very proud. This is a very special win for me. I had one opportunity to pounce and I wasn't going to let that slip. It was obvious the balance wasn't with Fernando at the end. That is when you have to smell blood and go after it."

Alonso was not unhappy with second. The result contributed another slab of points to a championship race he leads by 13. Alonso's genius is underpinned by a pragmatic streak that makes his rivals shudder. When his car is hot, he disappears. When it's not, and it hasn't been for much of this season, he still contends for a podium finish, a feature that contrasts sharply with his rivals at McLaren.

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button spent an afternoon wrestling against the mediocrity underneath them. McLaren introduced a raft of changes for this race, or upgrades as they are known in the trade. The net outcome was a downgrade.

Hamilton was quick in bursts but on fading rubber dropped back to eighth. For Button, 10th was a triumph. After all the torment rained down on this event, 130,000 braved the mud and queues craving sunshine and a British victory. The sun did not let them down.

Hamilton led briefly after Alonso pitted on lap 15. Alonso came out immediately behind and was all over Hamilton for three laps. On fresh rubber he nipped ahead, but Hamilton came straight back at him on the Wellington straight, got his nose in front before yielding inevitably on shot tyres. He gave it a go in circumstances that were not favourable.

Hamilton came in after lap 21, the last of the contenders to change tyres, in his case to the softer option. He was stationary for only 2.8 seconds, an area of the game in which McLaren have shown marked improvement, but not quick enough to get him back on the pitch higher than seventh.

The softer tyres proved slow and eight laps later he was back in for the harder compound, in order to get him ahead of Romain Grosjean in the Lotus.

It worked a treat, returning Hamilton ahead of the Frenchman in 12th. For a few laps at least he tapped into some welcome speed, accounting Nico Rosberg just as he had Michael Schumacher at Copse earlier in the piece.

The move dropped him on to the back of team-mate Button, and guess where he cut past him? Yes, a Copse hat-trick. It wouldn't last. Hamilton was straight on the radio informing the McLaren pit wall that Grosjean was way quicker than him.

Hammered

He was not telling them anything they did not know. "Stick at it, Lewis, you're doing a great job," they said. He was, but on lap 34 pluck gave way to pace and Grosjean hammered past.

It was left to Jackie Stewart to establish a British presence on the podium 39 years after he won his last race. In a first for the sport, he conducted a live Q&A with the top three before an audience of thousands on the start-finish straight, an innovation that will continue at all grands prix, if not with the tartan champion on the mike.

That idea came from the commercial rights holder, Bernie Ecclestone, who pulled off another coup by unveiling the International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, on the grid walk on the day a Briton was contesting the final of an Olympic sport at Wimbledon.

Does this mean F1 might soon be included as an Olympic event? Don't bet against it. (© Independent News Service)

Irish Independent

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