DREAM DEBUT AS WEBBER SCORES CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS IN MELBOURNE
3 March 2002 | 4:40pm
Mark Webber made a stunning start to his Formula One career with a superb debut drive into fifth place in front of his home crowd at the Foster's Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Melbourne's Albert Park today, March 3. Webber had the partisan crowd on its feet during the final two laps as he fought to keep Toyota's Mika Salo at bay, the experienced Finn closing right onto the tail of Webber before spinning out on his own accord and leaving the Aussie to score two vital world championship points at his very first attempt.
It was a fairytale ending to a busy week for both the 25-year old Australian from Queanbeyan, NSW and his KL Minardi Asiatech team boss, fellow Australian, Paul Stoddart from Melbourne, with media and public attention running high as Webber became the first Australian since David Brabham in 1994 to compete in Formula One.
In a race of high attrition, Webber kept his nerve as his rivals fell by the wayside and picked his way through to finish in the points, the first time Minardi has scored championship points since the 2000 season.
Said a delighted Webber afterwards, "I had to make a manual start to the race because we had a problem with the launch control. For a manual start, I actually got away okay but it was slow in comparison to the others. Before the race, I warned Pedro de la Rosa behind me that I would be slow away!
"On the run down to the first corner, I saw a huge problem and a lot of contact among the front-running cars and I just tried to get through it the best way I could. After the first two Safety Car periods, (the first for the opening lap incident and then Jarno Trulli's accident) I managed to get into a good rhythm but then suffered a huge problem with the diff which worried me a lot in terms of finishing the race.
"But the guys in the team helped me through it by telling me what to do and she held together until the end!
"The last few laps were pretty interesting with Mika Salo catching me but I was quite calm with him behind me. The plan was obviously not to let him past me and I hurt my car a little bit more than I would have liked. I knew where I was weak but I also knew where I could keep him behind me. I was also aware he had a slight top speed advantage but in the end, Mika made a small mistake which helped me out!
"Seeing the chequered flag was an awesome moment and my arms are still sore from where I was pumping my arms in the air and bashing them on the side of the cockpit! I'm just very, very happy....Paul and the team were absolutely superb and the crowd really helped to make my first grand prix weekend a very special and memorable occasion.
We Aussies don't usually shed a tear but I have to admit I did when I crossed the line - I think the last time I did that was when I won the Formula Ford Festival in 1996!"