Mark Webber insisted that he is still 'positive' about his title chances despite Red Bull Racing being beaten into third place in the 2009 F1 pecking order in this weekend's Hungarian Grand Prix – as the Australian nevertheless reduced the gap to long-time world championship leader Jenson Button to under 20 points.
Whilst Button and Brawn GP surprisingly struggled around the Hungaroring – a circuit that on paper should have suited the BGP 001 down to the ground – Red Bull remained at the front of the field, only they found themselves joined there by heavy-hitters McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari, traditional 'grandees' who have been uncharacteristically absent from the battle for much of the season.
Still, Webber looked to be in strong form to shine, making a good getaway from third on the grid to stave off an assault from reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton into the first corner, but when his British rival found a way past only a handful of laps later it soon became clear that RBR's Hungarian form was not quite so imperious as had been the case at Silverstone and the Nürburgring in previous weeks.
Following early leader Fernando Alonso's retirement, the man from Queanbeyan inherited second place back, but he swiftly lost it again during a calamitous first pit-stop when a delay was followed by Webber's pit crew releasing him into the path of the Ferrari of 2007 title-winner Kimi Raikkonen, though fortunately contact was narrowly averted.
On the harder of the two Bridgestone tyre compounds for the middle stint as most of the drivers around him plumped for the softer variety – 'my call', he candidly confesses – the 32-year-old subsequently slipped into the clutches of ex-Williams team-mate Nico Rosberg and Heikki Kovalainen in the second McLaren, and though he would remain ahead following the second round of stops, the damage had been done. A valiant late charge on the softer runner brought him back to barely five seconds adrift of runner-up Raikkonen at the chequered flag, but ultimately it was a case of too little, too late.
“I expected us to be a little bit quicker after our running on Friday,” the New South Wales native mused, “but to be honest we expected these guys (McLaren and Ferrari) to be around us. We knew it would be a more difficult venue for us and that we wouldn't have the advantage that we maybe had at the last two events so, all-in-all, I'm happy to get the result we did today.
“I think we would have had a better chance to fight with Kimi if we'd made a slightly different pit-stop and chosen a different tyre for the middle stint, but that was my call. I was worried about how long the middle stint was, so it was quite difficult to know which tyre to put on.
“Overall we still have a lot of positives to take away from here – we're still up there, we're in the hunt and [we] know that we can take our car to a lot of venues and be competitive. Red Bull and Renault have a lot to be proud of, we're still a strong force and it's a positive day.”
It was a less positive day, by contrast, for team-mate Sebastian Vettel, who was tagged by Raikkonen on the exit of turn one after the Finn got briefly out-of-shape, and after spending the opening stint down in seventh the damage to his suspension from the touch in the end consigned the young German to an early bath less than halfway through, and saw him cede second place in the drivers' standings to Webber.