This weekend in Germany, a new member was welcomed into the grand prix winner's circle, so put your hands together for Mark Webber. The Australian racer has been in F1 since 2002, driving for Minardi, Jaguar
and Williams before landing with Red Bull
Racing for the 2007 season and staying with them since. Despite the occasional impressive performance, Webber had never managed to advance beyond 10th place in the drivers' championship. And as the season opener – his home race – in Melbourne approached this year, 2009 didn't look like the season on which he'd finally capitalize as a bicycle accident during a fundraiser he organizes annually saw Webber collide head-on with a car, putting him in the hospital with a broken leg that could have sidelined him for at least the start of the season. But not unlike his leg, Webber snapped back for what would begin to unfold as his best season yet.
Following a pair of podium finishes – one at Monaco in 2005 and another at this same Nurburgring
track in 2007 – so far this season Webber has mounded on an additional third-place finish in Spain and three second-place finishes in China, Turkey and Britain, putting him farther ahead in the standings than he'd been since his days in Formula 3. But this weekend in Germany, the first Australian to win a race in nearly three decades stood atop the podium as Webber claimed the first grand prix victory of his career.
What makes the victory even more impressive was the drive-through penalty which was inflicted upon the square-jawed Aussie by the stewards early on in the race, resulting from a controversial move off the starting grid. After leading the practice times and subsequently dominating the qualifying session on Saturday, Webber started the race from pole position, but with Rubens Barrichello starting next to him, their respective team-mates Button and Vettel right behind, and challengers charging up the field from behind, Webber cut across the track leading into Turn 1 to defend his position. It worked, but the race officials deemed the move illegal and sent Webber into the pits for a drive-through penalty – quicker than a start-stop penalty though still enough to end the day in such a challenging field. But thanks to flawless form and brilliant strategy, Webber managed to regain the lead, hold back his adversaries and bring it home together with his team-mate Sebastian Vettel for Red Bull's third one-two finish this season.
The win closes the gap between Brawn and challenger Red Bull in the constructors' standings down to 19.5 points, but in the drivers' standings tightens up the race for second place behind Button's still significant lead at 68 points to a close battle between Vettel, Webber and Barrichello, now all hovering around the mid-40's. Webber's performance was a well-deserved victory and an impressive feat that throws another challenger into the mix in a season that had started out a pure domination. However Webber's drive was hardly the only noteworthy performance this season.
Joining the pair of Red Bull drivers on the podium this weekend was Ferrari's
Felipe Massa taking third place – his best finish so far this season. Despite driving a slower car, the Brazilian managed to hold back strong challengers to claim his first podium yet this season. Hardly the winning to which he and the Scuderia are historically accustomed, but as good as his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen has fared so far and better than his rival Lewis Hamilton has managed all season.
For his part, Raikkonen failed to finish the race, retiring on lap 35 at which point he was running close behind his team-mate Massa and could have brought home a solid 3-4 finish for Ferrari. Instead a collision with Force India's
Adrian Sutil took the former champion out of the race. But it was at least an equal disappointment for Sutil, who had managed to get as high up the field as second place before colliding with Raikkonen upon exiting the pits from the former's first stop in an incident that recalled
the pair's infamous incident at Monaco 2008
Lewis Hamilton hardly fared any better than his predecessor world champion, however, following a daring attempt to take the lead at the start of the race. Making good use of his KERS power reserve, Hamilton surged from his third-row spot on the grid up the outside and entered the first corner ahead of Webber and Barrichello, but punctured his rear inside tire on Webber's front wing, sending the defending champion limping back to the pits and sidelining him for the rest of the race.
The impressive performance, however, came from Nico Rosberg, who has emerged as a consistently improving driver this season. Following mixed results in the opening rounds, Rosberg took 9th place in Bahrain, followed by 8th in Spain, 6th in Monaco, 5th in both of the last two races in Turkey and Britain and finished 4th – from a qualifying position of 15th – in Germany this weekend; leaps and bounds ahead of his Williams wing-man Kazuki Nakajima and now sandwiched in the standings between the two Toyotas
that looked like Brawn's chief rival earlier this season.
Behind Webber, Vettel, Massa and Rosberg, the Brawn pair finished 5th and 6th with Button leading wingman Barrichello home once again. Behind them Fernando Alonso
– the only multiple champion on the grid – came in 7th after a command performance that would have yielded even better results had he been able to get past the slower drivers in his way.
Heikki Kovalainen rounded out the points finishers for McLaren
, taking his second-best result this season following a string of early retirements. Toyota's Glock, BMW's
Heidfeld, Force Indian's Fisichella, Williams' Nakajima, Renault's
Piquet, BMW's Kubica, Force India's Sutil, Toro Rosso's Buemi, Toyota's Trulli and McLaren's Hamilton all finished outside the points, with Toro Rosso's Bourdais sidelined on lap 19. Tune in again in two weeks' time for the Hungarian Grand Prix to see if Brawn GP will return to its winning ways after a two-race hiatus, Red Bull will continue its campaign or a new challenger will emerge.