Mark Webber has transformed himself from a 'nearly man' to a 'really man' in becoming only the third Australian ever to win in the top flight by storming to a dominant triumph in the 2009 German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring – half a century on from Sir Jack Brabham's famous Monaco Grand Prix glory that first put his country on the F1 map.
Not only did the Red Bull Racing star have to overcome a drive-through penalty for contact off the starting grid, but he thoroughly trounced every one of his rivals, home hero team-mate Sebastian Vettel included – comfortably defeating the man many had tipped to delight his partisan supporters with a second successive victory. The third Red Bull one-two of the season, it was the first with Webber in front – and having broken his leg last November, the New South Wales native has now also broken his grand prix duck.
Almost ten seconds ahead of Vettel at the chequered flag, the gap could feasibly have been upwards of half a minute, and up on the podium afterwards the proud strains of the Australian National Anthem rang out for the first time in almost three decades, since Alan Jones last stood atop the rostrum in Las Vegas in 1981. This time the dice rolled in Webber's favour, and the result marked unquestionably one of the most popular outcomes in recent memory. The world's fastest rollercoaster had been built at the Nürburgring ahead of this year's race, and the man from Queanbeyan has certainly been on his own rollercoaster ride over the last nine months – but now he has made the grade in his own right. Mark Webber – an F1 winner at last.
With the pressure on the pole-sitter, Webber made a reasonable getaway when the starting lights went out, but that of Rubens Barrichello alongside him on the grid was better, and as the pair headed down into turn one for the first time the Australian moved across a touch aggressively on his Brazilian rival and the pair fleetingly touched. Their squabble, though, did not take into account Lewis Hamilton, and the KERS-equipped McLaren-Mercedes was able to drive past both on the outside line.
Unfortunately for the reigning F1 World Champion, such was his speed that he was unable to slow down in time for the first corner, and as he went wide he picked up a puncture, which would drop him right to the very back of the field – and left his podium hopes in tatters.
Former GP2 Series sparring partner Nelsinho Piquet was also in the wars on the opening lap – going briefly off-piste in much the same way as Renault team-mate Fernando Alonso had endured an embarrassing spin on the rolling-up lap. Behind the leading duo, though, the second fast-starting McLaren of Heikki Kovalainen had slotted into third, and the Finn would go on to frustrate the attentions of Felipe Massa, Jenson Button and Vettel behind him throughout the early laps.
Four seconds adrift of the top two at the end of the opening lap alone, Button was the first to make a move, scything his way artfully past Massa into turn one at the beginning of lap two, but with Kovalainen making no mistakes, the world championship leader would go no further for quite some time. The situation, too, was threatening to play into the hands of the Ferraris of Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, both heavily-fuelled and both right in attendance with the earlier-stopping cars in front.
As Webber continued to track Barrichello's progress without seeming willing to try any kind of move, the former's one saving grace appeared to be the fact that the Brawn GP would be pitting a handful of laps earlier – but then the whole complexion of the grand prix changed in one fell swoop, as it was revealed that Webber was being awarded a drive-through penalty for his questionable sideswipe against Barrichello at the start.
Button was the first man to blink from fourth place at the end of lap 13, with both Brawn drivers complaining of tyre-graining issues and the British star sticking to his original three-stop plan. Webber served his drive-through on the same lap as Barrichello came in for his own first pit visit, but whilst the former would rejoin the fray ahead of the Kovalainen train, the latter did not – re-emerging right in the midst of the third-placed battle, behind Kovalainen and Massa and narrowly ahead of Vettel and Raikkonen.