Three-wheeled Webber hit with Bahrain grid penalty

editorial image

Mark Webber will want to forget the Chinese Grand Prix quickly after his nightmare weekend in Shanghai.

The Australian was still dealing with the fallout of the Malaysian Grand Prix controversy when the cars hit the track again on Friday after team-mate Sebastian Vettel said he’d ignore team orders again in the future.

But things got off to a bad start for the Red Bull Racing man when he ran out of fuel in qualifying, forcing him to start from the pit-lane for Sunday’s race.

His strategy looked to be paying off though. After changing off the soft-option Pirelli tyres on the first lap, Webber climbed up as high as fifth in the order, before dropping back down the order at his second stop.

But an ambitious move up the inside of Jean-Eric Vergne’s Toro Rosso on lap 15 saw him in the pits again to change his damaged front wing. And his bad luck didn’t stop there. The Red Bull crew changed his tyres again, but the left rear wheel nut didn’t hold and Webber was forced to tour around the 3.3 mile before the wheel eventually came off at the final hairpin - ironically where he ran out of fuel just 24 hours earlier.

His crash with Vergne was later deemed to be his fault, and he was handed a three-place grid penalty for the Bahrain Grand Prix next weekend.

“You could not script it, could you?” he said. “The qualifying was an absolute nightmare and then I got dropped to the back of the grid. The start of the race was going okay and we elected to get rid of the soft tyre quite quickly and then regrouped from there quite quickly by coming through the field.

“Then we got to Jean-Eric at turn six and, yes, I was coming from a reasonable distance behind but he knew I was there. Initially under braking I thought Jean-Eric was being very co-operative under braking and I thought that’s fair enough and we’d roll round there together and he’d give me some room.

“But then he came down towards the apex and I couldn’t get out of it at that point. It probably looks quite clumsy, but it was disappointing that we made contact.

“[The damage] still wasn’t the end of the world really because I was only a couple of laps short of our stop window and we came in and changed the nose. As far as I know the guys thought the tyre was fixed when I left but the wheel came off on the out lap.

“We had some problems but that can happen. As a complete team we don’t want to make a habit of those.”

Team boss Christian Horner said the wheel-nut which forced Webber into retirement was done up when it left the pits, and needed to carry out an investigation into the cause of the failure which saw the team fined $5,000.

He said: “He was coming back through the field extremely well, but unfortunately an incident with Jean-Eric Vergne caused front wing damage and a puncture.

“After changing the nose and all four tyres, Mark reported a problem with the right rear on the out lap, which had certainly left the pit lane fully torqued up. The right rear then came detached from the car and caused Mark to retire. Until we get the car back, it’s not possible to yet conclude the exact cause.

The result means Webber drops to sixth in the standings after three races.