Mark Webber slammed Red Bull for an apparent strategy change midway through the Suzuka Grand Prix yesterday (Sunday) which he felt cost him a shot at beating arch rival and four-time world champion in waiting Seb Vettel to victory.
The Aston Clinton racer, whose house is not for sale contrary to the local rumour mill, started at the front of the grid but ended up finishing second despite being the fastest driver all weekend.
A brilliant pole position on Saturday afternoon set the Aussie up for what would have been his first F1 victory in Japan. He and fellow front-row starter Vettel were beaten away from the grid by Romain Grosjean and his chances were further hampered by a change of strategy midway through the race.
“My race was made more complicated by Grosjean getting the jump on us at the start,” says Mark.
“He left the grid like a dragster, whereas we bogged down, and there wasn’t much Seb or I could do about it.
“I then found myself having to try and beat both guys – Grosjean and Sebastian.”
Tyre conservation proved critical once again for all of the drivers and Webber made his first pitstop on lap 11, where he swapped from the medium compound rubber he had used in qualifying to a fresh set of hard tyres.
He rejoined the race in sixth place, but fought his way back onto Grosjean’s gearbox very quickly.
“Even after my first pitstop I thought I was on two-stop strategy,” says Mark.
“That was the plan before the race and the team then called me up to say I should switch to a three-stopper. That would give me fresher tyres at the end of the race, but it would also mean I would have to overtake and that’s never easy at Suzuka because it’s so narrow. But the team told me to ‘go for it’, and that’s what I did.”
He started the final segment 2.5s behind second-placed Grosjean. Mark rapidly closed the gap to the Lotus driver, but he took nine laps to pass him – by which time it was too late to do anything about race leader Vettel.
“In the end I needed 2.5 pitstops today,” says Mark. “Two stops weren’t quite enough and three stops were too many. I’m slightly kicking myself that I didn’t go longer during the second stint, but that’s history now.
“I had a good fight with Grosjean at the end and it was good to take second place from him. It was a good grand prix and a good result for the team.
“Around a track like this you want to drive flat-out all of the time. But even when you’re conserving tyres, it’s still a great privilege to drive at Suzuka, and the fans are superb. They are very fair in their support of all the drivers.”
After back-to-back races in Korea and Japan, there is now a two-week break in the calendar ahead of the Indian Grand Prix on October 27.