Mark Webber was pleased to achieve a career-best home result when he finished fourth in Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix, but he was more relieved than elated.
The Red Bull driver made a slow start from fifth on the grid and found himself in the seemingly annual first-corner Albert Park accident when he clashed with the Force India of Nico Hulkenberg and found himself back in ninth after the opening lap.
The 35-year-old spent much of the early part of the race stuck behind Nico Rosberg, with the straight-line speed of the Mercedes frustrating Webber until the German pitted on lap 31.
Webber then unleashed a series of fastest laps as he showed the RB8 has prodigious pace on the medium-compound Pirelli tyre, and his chance at a podium was helped by a safety car period from lap 37, which brought him right behind the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton.
Try as he might, Webber couldn’t make his way past the pole-sitter and finished just 0.472secs away from a maiden Melbourne podium.
Webber said that after Red Bull was trounced by McLaren in qualifying, and given his first-corner travails, fourth place was a good result.
“To keep the McLarens in sight after last night, when we thought they’d be pulling away like hell, is a positive for us,” he said.
“The race was pretty eventful from the first corner. I thought I had a little bit of damage to be honest because I got squeezed pretty heavily, so in the end I had to rebuild the race from a lot further back than I anticipated. But there were a lot of positives after that. The pace was very good, and there were times when I was the quickest car on the track.”
Starts were a bugbear for Webber last year, with the Australian losing places off the grid into the first corner in six consecutive races at one stage in 2011. Webber said he would need to take a closer look at the telemetry from his getaway on Sunday, but knew he was in trouble when the Mercedes of Rosberg was past him almost as soon as the lights went out.
“I need to see if I did anything wrong on the start – sometimes it can be your fault and sometimes it can be the car, so I need to check the software side of things,” he said.
“Nico got an unbelievable start and was beside me straight away, and got past Seb (Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel) as well. From then I was pretty happy with the way I drove.”
There were some furrowed brows at Red Bull on Saturday night in the Albert Park paddock after pole-sitter Hamilton was more than seven-tenths of a second quicker than Webber in qualifying, but Webber said Sunday’s race pace gave the team some confidence heading into next Sunday’s Grand Prix in Malaysia.
“Yes, we still got beaten - McLaren beat us fair and square today – but we expected to have a harder time,” Webber admitted.
“I was all over Lewis (Hamilton) at the end, and I’m looking forward to having round two, our next battle, next week.
“Both teams are pretty well organised and executed pretty clean races, and both teams have experienced drivers who could bring the car home. McLaren had track position from quallie and we had a bit of work to do, but we managed to do a fair bit of it.”