Three weeks ago, Mark Webber had a pretty rubbish race weekend after his team-mate ignored team orders and overtook him to “steal” his win. At the time, Webber probably thought that things could only get better, but if you watched the Chinese Grand Prix, then you know that his Annus Horribilis continued in a similar vein and the conspiracy theorists are going all out to blame the team!
A refuelling problem on Saturday meant he ran out of fuel in Q2 and was dropped to 14th on the grid. A few hours later, the lack of fuel sample for testing purposes meant he was effectively disqualified from qualifying completely and would have to start from the Pit lane.
A quick pit stop on the end of lap 1 saw him swap tyres and then commence his race through the field and, due to the restrictions on tyre choice for the drivers at the front of the grid, he was pretty quickly in contention. As he raced through the field, he came up behind Vergne, who drives for Red Bull’s Torro Rosso (junior) team and they collided. Webber probably thought that a Torro Rosso driver would defer to a Red Bull driver with a faster car. Vergne thought otherwise and he closed the gap down until they touched. The damage to Webber’s car wasn’t severe but he has since been handed a three place grid penalty for the next race, as the Stewards considered him to blame for the collision.
After Webber’s next pit stop he exited the pits but immediately had to slow as it was obvious to him that his rear right-hand wheel was loose. He coasted around the track very slowly until the wheel left the car to roll across the track twice, in front of other drivers. Mark parked his three-wheeler up for the weekend and walked back to the Pits.
The conspiracy theorists gleefully point out that Webber’s fuel and wheel problems were both results of processes fully in the control of the team and that the collision was with a Red Bull/Torro Rosso driver.
I never thought that I would ever consider that an F1 Team could deliberately handicap one driver to aid the other, there is a precedent. Flavio Briatore was banned from the sport after it became apparent that he had asked Nelson Piquet Junior to deliberately crash in the Singapore Grand Prix in 2008 so that a full course yellow would benefit his team mate Alonso. I still think that Webber’s awful weekend was just a run of bad luck – but only time will tell if he can turn the corner.
In the meantime, the Chinese Grand Prix provided us with another entertaining race. F1 “purists” continue to bemoan the effect that Pirelli’s tyre policy has on the racing, but I, along with many other fans, love it. The short term benefit that the soft tyre gave drivers and the massive drop off in laptimes as they deteriorated made both Saturday’s Qualifying very interesting and provided us with some superb strategic and tactical options for the race.
The best example of the tyre impact was watching Vettel exiting the pits about 9 seconds behind Hamilton and Raikkonen with just 6 laps to go and then catching the back of Hamilton’s car on the last lap. Vettel running a bit too hot into one of the hairpins on the last lap and then Hamilton locking up his front wheels at the final corner was just about as exciting as it gets.
With only one week between races this time, the teams are unlikely to have made major changes to their cars performance for Bahrain – so Ferrari, Red Bull, Lotus and Mercedes should be the front runners next Sunday – but you never know!