Following a race in which three of his key title rivals failed to score and he and McLaren-Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton mounted the leading two steps on the podium, Mark Webber has reflected that last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps 'changed the landscape' of the F1 2010 World Championship battle.
When the starting lights went out in the Ardennes, Webber initially looked to have blown his pole position advantage with what he admitted was an 'appalling' getaway that briefly dropped him as low as seventh place – 'my dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree and cars streamed past me,' he recalled – but a combination of determination and sensible driving in the tricky climatic conditions enabled the Australian to recover to a fine runner-up finish at the chequered flag, as he kept his head whilst others lost theirs and in so doing kept his hopes of clinching the coveted crown this season firmly intact.
Hamilton's sublime victory might have cost Webber his erstwhile world championship lead, but the 34-year-old remains very much in touch at just three points adrift of his British adversary and, perhaps even more crucially, 28 points ahead of Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel – who calamitously crashed his own chances away on Sunday when he collided with Jenson Button – 32 ahead of Button and 38 clear of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso. All-in-all, he mused, a pretty decent job of damage limitation in the circumstances.
“Given my appalling start, I was very happy to finish second,” the New South Wales native wrote in the Herald Sun
newspaper. “When I released the clutch at the start of the formation lap, I knew immediately that there was a problem. The car bogged down as I pulled away from the line, so I made some small adjustments to the settings in an effort to rectify the situation, but it didn't work. When the lights went out, my dashboard lit up like a Christmas tree and cars streamed past me.
“Luckily, the run to Turn One is quite short at Spa; that limited the damage that the others could inflict and I only dropped back to seventh – but if the same thing were to happen at Monza in a couple of weeks' time, the boxing gloves will have to come out because it's a really long run to Turn One.
“I still had to knuckle down and work my way back into contention, which was pretty enjoyable. The car was handling well and 18 points was a great haul in the circumstances. At the [final safety car] re-start, I was right with Hamilton, but I didn't have the legs to pass him up the hill to Les Combes – and I wasn't about to risk anything stupid because second position was a great result given the weather conditions and my messy start.
“With Vettel, Button and Alonso failing to score any points, this race changed the landscape of the world championship battle. I'm just three points behind Hamilton at the top of the table, with Vettel 28 points behind me and Button four points further adrift. There are still six races to go, but things are heating up nicely. Roll on Monza!”