It’s Webber’s party at Nurburgring

Mark Webber savours his maiden Grand Prix victory in Germany.-AP

It was a well-merited success for the popular Australian, whose early-season form had been dramatically compromised by a tough recovery from a broken leg, sustained in a crash in Tasmania last November while participating in a charity cycling event, writes Alan Henry.

Mark Webber became only the third Australian to win a Formula One Grand Prix when he headed his team-mate Sebastian Vettel home to a Red Bull one-two in the German Grand Prix.

In doing so he joined the triple world champion Jack Brabham, who scored his maiden Grand Prix victory at Monaco 50 years ago, and the 1980 title holder, Alan Jones, who was the last Australian Grand Prix winner at Las Vegas in 1981. With Jenson Button battling home fifth with badly graining rear tyres on his Brawn, the Briton finished the day with Vettel having trimmed his championship points lead from 25 to 21 points with eight races remaining.

It was a result which heaps added pressure on Brawn, who had to concede a significant performance edge to Red Bull for the second successive race. Webber beat his young team-mate by 9.25seconds, despite having to serve a drive-through penalty after side-swiping his front-row rival Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn as they accelerated away from the start. He then clipped Lewis Hamilton’s fast-starting McLaren-Mercedes, slightly damaging the Red Bull’s front wing while leaving the frustrated world champion to limp round to change a punctured tyre at the end of the opening lap.

“I knew my start wasn’t absolutely fantastic and I moved over and felt a bump, thinking, ‘Oh, there he is’,” said Webber.

“I thought that it was a bit hard to incur a penalty because that sort of driving is not my style.”

Webber came in from second place to take his penalty at the end of lap 14 but resumed in the lead because it coincided with Barrichello’s first pit stop. He made his own first refuelling stop at the end of lap 19, dropping to eighth.

He climbed back to the lead by lap 32 before making his second stop on lap 43, squeezing back out in second ahead of Felipe Massa’s Ferrari. On the very next lap Vettel made his second scheduled stop, clearing the way for Webber to surge back into a lead he was never to lose.

Webber and the early leader Barrichello were always going to be strong bets for victory as Heikki Kovalainen’s McLaren bottled up much of the midfield bunch from third place in the opening stages. The McLaren’s much slower pace effectively assisted Webber to recoup the time lost taking his penalty without Vettel benefiting from his delay.

It was a well-merited success for the popular Australian, whose early-season form had been dramatically compromised by a tough recovery from a broken leg, sustained in a crash in Tasmania last November while participating in a charity cycling event.

“It was one of those weekends where you feel pretty satisfied,” said Webber, adding that he hoped that GP victories would be like buses: “You hope that a few more will be coming along soon. It was nice to have a very nice, straightforward first Grand Prix victory.

“(After the winter) it was soon clear that my leg was not as healed as I would like it but it was clear from the speed Sebastian was showing in testing that the car was going to be very competitive.”

“I think today he was unbeatable, quicker than all of us and totally deserved to win, so congratulations to him,” said Vettel generously. “I was lucky to have the right strategy, which brought us back to second place, but Massa kept pushing me all the way to the chequered flag.”

Massa was relieved to have secured a podium position, but it had looked as if a top-three finish might belong to Hamilton after he qualified in fifth. With a significant upgrade to his McLaren, the reigning champion had impressed then but was left to regret the first-corner incident with Webber. He finished 18th, the last of the runners and a lap down.

“My race was effectively over at Turn One,” said Hamilton. “I had quite a good launch down to Turn One and I was braking when I felt a tap from the rear and went straight on. I think the flat tyre had damaged the rear floor and it felt like I was out there driving on ice. The best thing about this weekend was that our updates were successful.”

In qualifying Webber had timed things brilliantly to snatch pole position in a session rendered chaotic by intermittently wet track conditions and fluctuating track temperatures, which seriously affected the drivers’ ability to generate sufficient grip from their tyres.

“It was a very difficult session knowing what the track was going to do in terms of how greasy it was and what tyres to use,” said Webber as he reflected on the first pole of his career.

“We were having trouble a little bit in the warm-up anyway in the dry, let alone having some moisture on there, so it was a very difficult session but one that our team executed well, which is why we got pole.”

It was a key, although not absolutely determining, factor behind his success in the race. Few drivers on the current grid know more about the vagaries of Formula One than Webber who, in his 130th attempt, had taken longer than any other driver in the sport’s history to win his first GP. It made this success all the sweeter.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2009