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Webber fire casts doubts for Japan, prompts random fire truck

6 October 2013

For the second race in a row, Mark Webber made a fiery exit from F1 proceedings, but the magnitude of his Korean conflagration could yet have an impact on his Japanese GP weekend.

Already on the back foot after his unconventional mode of transport back to the pits in Singapore earned him a ten-place grid penalty, the Australian was making progress through the pack – and may even have been on course for a podium finish – when two unfortunate occurrences served to bring a premature end to his afternoon's endeavours.

Having already made his second stop, Webber appeared to be sitting pretty when the safety car was summoned to retrieve the shed tread from Sergio Perez's right front tyre. However, with typical Webber fortune, running close behind the Mexican at the time of the incident gave the Red Bull driver little time to avoid the debris that resulted, and he was forced to pit again in order to replace a punctured tyre of his own.

Dropping outside the top ten, and with a podium now unlikely, Webber was determined to salvage as many points as possible from the race, but did not even get past the first lap of the restart before being collected by an errant Adrian Sutil under braking at the turn three hairpin.

The German had come from a long way back, and wasn't even attempting to pass Webber, when he lost control and entered the corner backwards. The Red Bull, which was already turning into the corner, arrested Sutil's progress, sustaining substantial right-side damage in the process. Although he tried to recover, it immediately became apparent to Webber that his own safety should be of paramount importance, as flames began licking from the sidepod and engine cover.

“After the tyre failure on Perez' car, I was very lucky to miss the tread that came off, but unbelievably I managed to get a puncture from going through the debris,” the Australian sighed, “Before that, I was very happy with how I drove and we'd got back to a very good position before I got the puncture….

“Of course, the incident with Sutil was obviously the end of my race. Everyone bottles back up [at turn three] and I was looking for a big exit on the next straight to use some KERS on Daniel [Ricciardo] and the Williams. Then Sutil, I don't know what happened, but obviously he hit me from the inside and that was that.”

The Australian duly alighted, and attempted to quell the flames with the car's own extinguisher, but it was several minutes before the blaze could be brought under control. The incident also prompted an unscheduled appearance, in the middle of the track, by a grey fire truck, apparently despatched by one of the local stewards without recourse to the race director….

Fortunately, the vehicle – which wasn't moving at the same speed as the pack even as the safety car attempted to pick up the leader – did not cause any further incident, allowing Webber to survey the injury to his RB9.

“There was quite a lot of damage at the back of the car and I hope it hasn't gone towards the chassis,” he remarked, “We will have to see before the next race….

Team principal Christian Horner admitted that it 'was somewhat frustrating to see our car on fire for what seemed to be an age', while Thierry Salvi, from engine partner Renault, conceded that there was the possibility that the V8 could be lost to Webber for the remainder of the season.

“It was a shame for Mark as he was really on for a very strong result in spite of his starting position,” the Frenchman reflected, “The collision with Sutil damaged the car and caused the fire, but it's too early to tell if we can re-use the engine yet – we will have to look at the damage in the week before Japan.”


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