Mark Webber has suggested that his runner-up finish to Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel in the Chinese Grand Prix at the weekend went 'a long way' towards his next goal – that of standing up on the top step of the podium himself.
Webber has yet to triumph in 124 starts in the top flight since making his debut with Minardi back in 2002, and indeed second position in Shanghai marked his finest result to-date, and only his third rostrum appearance. Frequently viewed as one of Formula 1's unluckiest drivers, he has invariably displayed strong pace – especially in qualifying – only to run into reliability troubles or find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time on race day.
The affable Australian seemed to turn something of a corner last year, however, notching up five points finishes in swift succession early on in the campaign, and with the Adrian Newey-penned and Renault-powered RB5 looking to be one of the very sharpest machines on the grid in 2009, the New South Wales native hopes the Chinese success was just the tip of the iceberg.
“[It means] a huge amount,” he reflected of the Milton Keynes-based outfit's triumph after 75 grand prix starts. “Our team has been through a lot and a lot of results have slipped through our fingers, and here Sebastian and I could capitalise on a car that worked very well. We pushed each other quite hard in the race.
“It was a very tough race [and] extremely rewarding to get this result. I think it is an incredible result for Red Bull. If you think what Dietrich [Mateschitz] has done over the last five or six years in Formula 1, to get his first one-two is an absolute credit to him. Personally for myself, it is obviously the best result of my career.
“I must say that normally when I'm in that position, to gain positions I like to see the guy in front have a problem and blow up, and of course if it was Jenson [Button], I would like to see him blow up, but if it was Sebastian it was a bit different, so it was an incredible result for our team in the circumstances. I hope to go one step better in the future, and this is a long way towards it.”
Not only did Red Bull have to resolve the driveshaft issues that had plagued Webber and Vettel's Saturday practice and qualifying efforts – 'It was incredible to get the cars home,' he admitted, having earlier revealed that 'we were absolutely sh***ing ourselves that the cars wouldn't finish the race' [see separate story – click here
] – but the former also had to get the better of world championship leader Button, having slipped behind the Brawn GP in the first round of pit-stops. It was an entertaining and hard-fought duel.
“It was challenging at times,” the 32-year-old mused. “Of course, Sebastian deserved a clear gap because he got pole. Once Fernando [Alonso] rolled away in terms of pitting under the safety car, we knew we were quite short so we needed to make the most of getting away from potential two-stoppers or people who had more flexibility with their strategy.
“In the first few laps it was impossible to stay close to Seb; I could hardly see anything. I was in and out of the throttle in some of the blind crests, and having so many moments while trying to stay close. Then it started to settle a little bit and then I thought okay, I can start to come a little bit closer, but I hit a river in turn one, went a bit wide, lost some time and unfortunately it put me back into the clutches [of Button].