Webber leads home race before retiring with gearbox problem
2 April 2006 | 7:31pm
For immediate release April 2, 2006
WEBBER LEADS HOME RACE BEFORE RETIRING WITH GEARBOX PROBLEM
The 2006 Foster’s Australian Grand Prix ended in bitter disappointment for local hero Mark Webber when the WilliamsF1 driver was forced to retire while leading the 58-lap race (apparently the first time an Australian has ever led an Australian Grand Prix) on lap 22 with gearbox problems. Webber had moved into the lead by virtue of running a much longer first stint than those ahead of him, and given his pace and race strategy was looking a dead cert for a podium finish until he cruised to a halt at the side of the track.
This year’s Australian Grand Prix proved a highly eventful race – the first incident occurring on the warm-up lap when McLaren Mercedes driver Juan Pablo Montoya spun while warming up his tyres and was stranded across the track as Webber came through! The Columbian was destined to start the race at the back but when front-row man, Giancarlo Fisichella, began frantically waving his arms to signal a problem with his car, the start was aborted and the drivers were sent off on another formation lap. As the second start was deemed a new race, Montoya was allowed to weave his way up through the field to take his original grid position ahead of Webber, while Fisichella was sent to the back for causing the restart!
Once the race finally got underway, Webber got away smartly in sixth position behind Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen and Montoya. However, before the field had completed their first lap, there was chaos further back when Felipe Massa crashed after being squeezed by the two Red Bull Racing cars. In the middle of it was the unfortunate Nico Rosberg who collected Massa’s errant tyre; smashing his rear wing in the process. The young WilliamsF1 driver managed to make it back to the pits but was forced to retire there and then.
The Safety Car was deployed to remove the debris and it was under these conditions that Montoya spun again, allowing Webber to move through for fifth position. Webber quickly pounced on Ralf Schumacher to go fourth on the restart into turn 9 but was being chased all the time by the light-on-fuel Montoya who passed him again into turn 14. The Safety Car was deployed again on lap seven when Christian Klien crashed heavily but the mess was quickly cleaned up and the race was under way again a lap later.
Webber continued to run strongly in fifth position but then moved into fourth when Montoya pitted for his first stop at the end of lap 18. Button and R. Schumacher were the next ones to pit followed a lap later by race leader Alonso; all this handing the lead to Webber who wasn’t due to stop until lap 27!
Webber led the race for a lap but hopes for a dream result on home turf were dashed when the Williams FW28 lost drive and Webber pulled off the track.
“My day had started off really well when I drew back the curtains and saw my driveway was dry!” said Webber afterwards, “All our preparations for the race had gone really well and I got off to a good start in the race. Given our fuel load, I was very pleased with our pace. I still had another four or five laps to go before making my first pit stop and I was already ahead of Ralf and would have cleared Jenson easily. Everything felt good and I was punching in my personal bests when I lost my transmission. There’s no rewind button in this game but had we finished, we would have been on the podium - definitely third, maybe even second. But, we (the team) are all on the boat together and we have to take the rough with the smooth. I’m heading back to Europe tomorrow – Alex (Wurz) will be testing this week and then I have three days at Barcelona next week. But, it’ll be a long wait before the next race at Imola in three weeks.”
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