Slater: Webber times it perfectly

ESPNSTAR.com columnist Steve Slater hails the coolness demonstrated by Red Bull's Mark Webber and dissects why certain drivers fared poorly at the British Grand Prix.

Steve Slater

Mark Webber's British Grand Prix victory was in many respects, typical of the man. No dramatics, no showboating, no mistakes, just a carefully planned and perfectly executed drive to victory - with the subsequent bonus of a new contract for the coming season.

Webber's win also took him closer in the championship points to leader Fernando Alonso. However, despite fading away to second place in the closing stages of the race, the Ferrari driver still seems genuinely surprised and delighted to have led at Silverstone and remain at the head of the championship.

When I suggested to Alonso ahead of the race, another win at Silverstone wouldn't be quite the surprise that his 2011 victory brought, I was greeted with a laugh before he confided: "Actually, every one of my last few wins with Ferrari has been a surprise".

Alonso came close to making it two back to back wins at the British track. His performance in Saturday qualifying was spectacular and only fading tyres spoiled his chances in the closing stages of Sunday's race.

Tyre management again proved the key to any hope of success, meaning some much-fancied front runners failed to feature in the results. Much of that can also be blamed on the fickle British weather.

Torrential rain throughout Friday's two free practice sessions meant the teams lost any chance of gauging the rate of tyre wear on a dry track. As they tried to fit in a day's work into a single hour-long dry practice session on Saturday, they took a best guess and it was notable that McLaren and Mercedes lost out.

One theory is that as all the drivers struggle to keep their tyres in an optimum temperature window, the McLaren and Mercedes car have 'edgier' handling and are more prone to sudden dips in performance. It was also noteworthy that Button and Rosberg, who both have a smoother driving style, weren't able to cope with the changeable track conditions as well as Hamilton and Schumacher, their more aggressive team-mates.

At the start of the race and after their respective pit stops, both Button and Rosberg struggled to get sufficient heat into the Pirelli tyres to consistently deliver optimum grip. Then, as the track temperature rose later in the race, the cars' handling characteristics changed again.

Meanwhile, the arch-hustler of ill-handling cars, Fernando Alonso was perhaps just a little too aggressive. After their recent dip in form, Ferrari can perhaps be excused for a shortage of self-confidence on the pit wall. That maybe resulted in their pacing Alonso just a little too hard.

As in Montreal, the result was that as the race entered the closing stages the Ferrari's tyres began to show distress. With three laps to go, Alonso knew he was in trouble and astutely didn't defend too hard as Webber closed in.

As far as Alonso was concerned, the Red Bull driver could claim the win and 25 points. Second place and 18 points would still keep him in the championship lead.

Meanwhile Webber added to his 2010 British GP win with a fully justified second victory. Right from the start, Webber had refused to overdrive, maintaining just sufficient pace to head the pack behind Alonso, matching his pace to the tyre wear and clinically delivering the strategy agreed with his engineers ahead of the race.

It was a perfectly driven race and importantly, across the whole weekend Webber comfortably outpaced team-mate Vettel. It was noteworthy that on the following Tuesday, the Australian announced an extension to his contract with Red Bull for the 2013 season.

One hopes for Mark, that he's negotiated a clause to boost his salary if he becomes World Champion this year. The odds increasingly look set to favour a Ferrari versus Red Bull battle and if Webber continues to bring cool discipline to his driving, he rather than Vettel might be Alonso's closest challenger. 



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