Qualifying sixth on the grid, Webber made a poor getaway at the start and seemed to be going backwards. But after an early stop to shed soft tires for a fresh set of medium tires, the Australian began to make up ground.
Employing a three-stop strategy, Webber found himself, in the closing stages of the race, in a train of cars stuck behind Kimi Raikkonen, who was then in second position and struggling on worn tires. Unlike Webber, Raikkonen was on a two-stop strategy.
Vettel, also on a two-stopper, overtook Raikkonen who then went offline onto the marbles and was passed in quick succession by Jenson Button, Lewis Hamilton and Webber. The trio then set off in pursuit of Vettel, who was by now struggling badly as well.
Webber was the last to pass the defending champion to claim his third straight fourth-place finish, behind maiden winner Nico Rosberg and the McLarens of Button and Hamilton.
“It was a pretty difficult race to be honest,” said Webber. “I was struggling a lot with the warm-up on the first few laps, particularly with the front [tires], so we lost some positions there. I had a poor start as well, which was very frustrating. In the end, fourth is probably not the maximum, but I made a couple of mistakes as well, trying to push, running wide onto that back straight. It was easy to get into the marbles there.
“It was just tricky to keep the balance of the car together and keep pushing as hard as possible,” he added. “But in the end we got a handful of points. I think it’s three fourths on the bounce now. So we leave here reasonably satisfied I’d say. At the start of the race it looked like we were going to get a lot less but we got something at the end. Any position you can get towards the end is good. I was seeing P13 and P14 on my board sometimes, so fourth is not bad at all.”
Vettel was forced to settle for fifth -- after being passed by Webber in the final laps -- but considering his starting position (11th) and a bad start (which dropped him as far back as 15th), the defending champion said he was pleased with the result.
“I think I missed out a little on the start," said Vettel. "I was a bit too late. I wasn’t entirely happy finding the revs and I was a bit confused. I lost the initial bit when the lights went out. Usually I’m pretty quick but today I think I was one of the last ones. I didn’t wake up early enough.
“Then I lost two positions to the Williams and then in turn one they nearly crashed -- I think they did a little bit -- and I had to hit the brakes and I didn’t know what was going to happen. Then I lost another couple of positions, so it was a pretty bad stage after the first lap but with the strategy we managed to kind of come back.”
The German added that he wasn’t disappointed to have lost fourth to his teammate.
“You could ask the same question about whether I was disappointed to lose the position to Jenson and one or two laps later to Lewis," he said. "It was getting more and more difficult. I had nothing left in the tires. I knew that the only chance was to try to escape from Kimi; I think he ran into the same kind of problems really. I had no tires left.
“We were generally too slow on the straights,” Vettel concluded. “We were losing out a lot of time there. That made it extremely difficult to pass other people to be honest, so I’m pretty happy with fifth, given the poor start and the poor first lap we had.”
Webber signed off by congratulating Rosberg on his first victory but issued a warning to Mercedes that he would try to prevent a similar result happening again.
“They must have been solid and quick and they got what they deserved for being so quick," he said. "We can’t discount them for sure and the win will give them confidence. That’s something we have to get back off them quick smart.”
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