A rare driving error in South Korea has cost Mark Webber the advantage in the race for the Formula One world championship.
The title fight was turned upside-down when Webber crashed on the 19th lap of the sodden Korean Grand Prix but he got lucky when his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel — a real threat in the championship — was sidelined with an engine failure just nine laps from the flag.
So, for the first time since the start of the season in Bahrain, Fernando Alonso of Ferrari is in the box seat.
The Spanish two-time champion is now on 231 points, 11 points ahead of Webber (220), with Lewis Hamilton up to third in the standings for McLaren on 210. Vettel is on 206 points with just the Brazil Grand Prix and Abu Dhabi race remaining.
“There are still two races to go, I’ll do my absolute best,” Webber said after his crash.
The Red Bull pair were clearly the fastest combination yesterday, but it didn’t help them as foul weather delayed the start, forced a total stoppage and a second start behind the safety car, and then a string of safety car periods for crashes.
Vettel and Webber led away but the Aussie crashed when he got wide and spun into a wall, also taking out Nico Rosberg of Mercedes-Benz, as the german tried to avoid him.
That left Vettel to totally dominate until his Renault engine exploded spectacularly, gifting Alonso a win.
“Totally my fault. I got on the kerb on the exit of turn 12 and it was a very slow-motion moment off the back of that kerb,” Webber said of his crash.
“Totally my mistake. Wasn’t my day. And I collected Nico as well.” If Red Bull does not give priority to Webber now – as he still has a 14-point break over Vettel – it could easily cost the team any chance of the title.
Red Bull already has to wait for the manufacturers’ championship as the team’s first two-car failure of the season meant it could not lock away that title yesterday.
“Postions are not important…the points are the most important thing. This is my second non-finish of the year,” Webber said.
Alonso has said all season that he will be world champion and Ferrari has momentum, but he is running short of engines – each driver is limited to eight new engines for the season – and Red Bull still has a faster car.
Webber won in Brazil last year and Vettel won in Abu Dhabi, so the pair have the right record but they must stop the mistakes and, probably, pull together if one of them is to take the title.
The final result in Korea had Alonso more than 10 seconds clear of Lewis Hamilton in second, with Felipe Massa completing a great day for Ferrari with the final podium place, ahead of Michael Schumacher of Mercedes, the best result of his comeback season, and Robert Kubica of Renault.
It was a miserable day for defending world champion Jenson Button, who finished 12th for McLaren after an early pit stop compromised his race.
The 30-year-old Briton is now 42 points behind Alonso.