Christian Horner lauded Mark Webber as the 'driver of the day' following the Red Bull Racing star's outstanding performance in the Chinese Grand Prix, as the Australian turned 18th on the starting grid into the final step on the podium in Shanghai.
After his qualifying disaster, Webber was tipped to make rapid progress through the field in China today, but in the early laps, there was little discernible progress, as on the harder compound Pirelli tyres, he found himself caught up in traffic and making no inroads, even conceding positions to Sauber's Sergio Pérez and the Williams of Rubens Barrichello early on. It looked as if the 34-year-old was down-and-out – and then suddenly, he came alive.
Following his first pit-stop, Webber mirrored his aggressive strategy with controlled aggression behind the wheel, and his overtaking moves were a joy to behold as – even more impressively than in Malaysia a week earlier – he fairly scythed his way up through the order, taking full advantage of his greater supply of fresh tyres resulting from his early exit in qualifying.
At times lapping as much as three seconds quicker than anybody else in the race, the six-time grand prix-winner made short work of forcing his way by Michael Schumacher – a man who made life difficult for many a driver in Shanghai – and in the closing stages, went on to inexorably hunt down and pass Felipe Massa, Nico Rosberg and, on the penultimate lap, Jenson Button for third place.
Taking the chequered flag a mere 7.5 seconds adrift of the triumphant Lewis Hamilton and less than two-and-a-half seconds behind his pole-sitting Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel, it was truly a masterclass and a vivid demonstration of simply refusing to give up. Had the grand prix lasted just a handful more laps, Webber might very well have won.
“We decided to start on the 'Prime' tyre, which we know is not the most desired, as it doesn't have the characteristics of the hard tyre in terms of duration and things like that,” he revealed. “We got that out of the way, but it was quite tricky actually, as even with the guys I was with, everyone was using DRS at the same time. I made a mistake in Turn Two, and then we came in as there wasn't much left in the tyres and our race started from there.
“To see P17 on your board after 15 laps you think it might not happen, but suddenly I felt very comfortable with the car. I had a few sets of tyres left from qualifying, so that helped; maybe that's the way to do it – miss qualifying and go from there!
“All joking aside, though, I think the guys have done an incredible job – it's a back-to-back race and we haven't had the smoothest run with my car, but I haven't given up. That drive today was for them and for everyone back at the factory. Congratulations to Lewis, and it was a good day for us in terms of points for the team.”
Often accused of not supporting Webber as warmly as he does world championship leader Vettel, RBR team principal Horner was effusive in his praise for the man who at times has clearly felt like very much the energy drinks-backed outfit's number two.