Mark Webber was denied a shot at victory in the Japanese Grand Prix after a team decision to switch to a three-stop strategy.
The Australian made a good start to the weekend, culminating in setting the fastest time in the final free practice session on Saturday morning.
He carried his rapid pace into qualifying too, beating team-mate Sebastian Vettel for the first time this season and with it, taking his first pole position since the Korean Grand Prix a year ago.
But off the start line, Webber and Vettel were both beaten to the first corner by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean. Lewis Hamilton looked to have the edge on the pair as well, but he picked up a puncture as his right rear tyre grazed Vettel’s front win, instantly slicing his tyre, forcing him into retirement.
Webber, who was running second behind Grosjean, was the first of the front three to make a second stop, dropping him back down the order.
But Grosjean and Webber’s Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel opted to go for two stops, meaning Webber had to play catch-up to get back in the running.
Webber emerged from his final stop behind both Vettel and Grosjean.
With laps in hand, Webber mounted a challenge on the leading duo. But while he had the pace to potentially attack Vettel in the remaining laps, Grosjean put paid to any chances of a Red Bull battle for the lead by holding up Webber for five laps.
Afterwards though, Webber was philosophical about the decision to switch him from a two to a three-stop strategy.
“We were on the back foot a bit after Romain’s great start,” he said.
“I wanted to put pressure on him for the win. Sebastian was on a different strategy to me and in the end it worked out pretty similar.
“It’s hard to know which was right (a two or three stop strategy), as we were trying to cover off Romain.
“I did my best and in the end it was a good result.”
The result sees Webber consolidate his fifth place in the world championship standings, opening the gap to Nico Rosberg in sixth place to 22 points, while closing the gap to Hamilton in fourth to 13 points.