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Webber emerges as major F1 force

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Andrew Benson | 06:00 UK time, Thursday, 27 May 2010

For the first time in his life, Mark Webber is looking down on the Formula 1 world championship table from the top.

It is quite a change for the man who, for the first seven years of his career, was known as F1's unluckiest driver, and who before Red Bull hit their stride last year only very rarely had a car capable of competing at the front.

This season was expected to continue where 2009 left off - with Webber's team-mate Sebastian Vettel as Red Bull's lead driver and Webber picking up the odd win here and there.

But that is not the way it has worked out.

Germany's rising star continues to drive superbly - he has scored three pole positions, won a race, and lost two more because of reliability problems.

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But Webber is heading into this weekend's Turkish Grand Prix on the back of two dominant victories in Spain and Monaco, having crushed Vettel at two very different circuits.

And, although tied on points with his team-mate, Webber is leading the championship by virtue of having won more races.

Webber has never before won two races on the trot - and whenever he has beaten Vettel in the past, the younger man has generally gone straight out at the next race and reasserted what he assumes to be the natural order.

No wonder, then, that Vettel was left bemused, confused and not a little shocked by his team-mate's stunning performance in Monaco, that ultimate test of a grand prix driver - 0.4 seconds quicker in qualifying, and in another league in the race.

And that is not even the whole story. As Webber put it after Monaco, he should have three victories and Vettel none - Vettel only won in Malaysia after Webber misjudged his advantage on the run down to the first corner and left the door open wide enough for his team-mate to slip through into the lead.

So what has happened? What has turned Webber from a quick and aggressive but sometimes inconsistent driver into a man who now appears to have become a consistent front-runner? And can he maintain his form?

BBC Sport visited Webber earlier this week at his beautiful house in Buckinghamshire to film an interview with Eddie Jordan which will be broadcast on BBC One this weekend.

Playing in his expansive gardens with his beloved dogs - a Rhodesian ridgeback called Simba and a German short-haired pointer called Shadow - Webber remains the same likeable, matter-of-fact, no-nonsense Aussie sportsman he has always been.

These are two serious dogs, that you would in no way want to mess with.

And, resplendent in pale blue jeans and a flowery designer Italian shirt, Jordan was understandably wary of producer Sunil Patel's requests that he get down to some rough and tumble with them for the sake of some "great TV".

But, not without reason, he likened Webber to a "shadow", sneaking up unawares on his championship rivals.

Almost certainly that is what partly explains Vettel's shocked response to Webber's recent wins - it just didn't compute; it wasn't what was meant to be happening.

Webber, with the wisdom of a man who has seen too much to get carried away, says he is "keeping my feet on the deck - we know we've got some pretty stiff opposition".

For Webber the driver, though, there is no doubt things have changed this year.

First of all, he feels much more at home in the 2010 Red Bull than he did last year's car - he talked after setting his brilliant pole position in Monaco of finding "another gear in terms of confidence in the car".

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Watch - the Monaco Grand Prix in 90 seconds


From that stems the willingness drivers need to push the limits, knowing the car will not bite them back for their adventure, and the ability to know how far is too far.

Vettel, though, shares a very similar driving style to his team-mate, so it cannot just be that.

Webber is also displaying a calm, accepting approach - realising that he cannot win all the races, and that Vettel is too good to beat all the time, he is neither getting too down following his poorer races, nor too up following his two great wins.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, there is the issue of the leg he broke in November 2008 in his own adventure challenge in Tasmania.

It was a very nasty accident and a very serious injury and, although Webber played it down, there seems little doubt that it affected his driving last season.

Certainly, he was far from fit when he first drove the 2009 Red Bull in winter testing in February - he was still on crutches. And clearly the injury affected his mindset and physical preparation, however slightly, throughout last summer.

Webber had an operation over the winter to remove most of the metal-work holding his right leg together, leaving only the titanium rod that runs down his shin still in place, as his tibia was still not fully healed.

His leg retains a nasty-looking circumferential lump not far above his ankle, but that is actually just some excessive re-growth caused by a bone intensifier used after the accident to stimulate healing.

So, fundamentally, the injury is healed, or at least healed enough for him not to have it at the back of his mind any more.

These sound like small things, but they add up to a lot at the very highest level of F1, where so much success depends on a drivers' mentality.

For those outside Red Bull, the fact that Webber now appears to be able to challenge Vettel on an equal basis is good news.

With the fastest car on the grid, and their drivers finally one and two in the championship after a tricky start to the season, it could be a long summer ahead if there was no competition within the team.

As Webber knows only too well, though, the bubble could burst at any moment, and he is concentrating on that great sporting cliché - taking each event as it comes.

Or, as he puts it: "It's still very early. The points can change very quickly, as we saw with JB (Jenson Button). He was leading the championship, he's had a tough few races and now I'm leading it. I'm just focusing on the sessions and my job."

He adds: "We did a good job with the car and I did a good job in the cockpit. I'm keeping my head down.

"We've got to keep staying in the hunt, that's the main thing. We mustn't underestimate the competition, we know that. But we're up for it and looking forward to the challenge towards the front."

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Webber is doing a great job, just hope Hamiltons luck changes some time soon!!!

    Looking forward to Turkey.

  • Comment number 2.

    Interesting point about the leg, because he looks, and is acting like a totally different person this year. He has his work cut out to keep Vettel at bay, as Vettel could easily have 1 more win (Bahrain) if it wasn't for reliabilty, but so far, the signs are promising.

    Can the red Bull keep blowing away Ferrari & Mclaren, don't know, but it's graet TV.

  • Comment number 3.

    Looking for to EJ's interview, he really understands the mindset of a driver and usually gets a great response. Amazing form from Webber, hope it can continue.

  • Comment number 4.

    If it can't be Hamilton or Button winning this year then I can't think of anyone I'd rather take the crown away from the Brits. Webber is a top guy, very humble and honest which are qualities that not all F1 drivers possess. Good luck Lewis and Jenson however!!!!!!

  • Comment number 5.

    I just hope that Mark doesn't have a swimming pool, or if he does that the cleaners were there so we are spared the sight of Eddie in his trunks again ;-)

    I just find it bizarre how people quickly write off injuries to drivers, yes they are sportsmen and superbly fit and can make recoveries that are near superhuman, but when they are fighting over 10ths, 100ths and even 1000nds of a second then tiny differences are big deciders. Last season it was clear to me how much Webber's health was improving by his gaining in confidence and ability to push the car harder.

  • Comment number 6.

    As much as I love trawling through all the positive press about Mark right now, can you please do me a favour. STOP BIGGING HIM UP!!! The superstitious side of me thinks it's playing with fire.

    Seriously though it's great to see him going well. Let's hope it continues.

  • Comment number 7.

    Webber does seem to have come good, it's just a shame he has peaked at a time when the sport is dying.

  • Comment number 8.

    Yes, clearly the sport is dying. We have no idea who will win the championship (either of them) which makes it VERY exciting, we have new teams coming in, the old marques are getting beaten by the likes of Red Bull which has shaken up the natural order and made things interesting. Yes, this sport is clearly on its way to being flatline. :D What a joker!

  • Comment number 9.

    He wins a couple of races and all of a sudden he is up there with the best in the biz?

    Vettel would be cantering to a WDC if it were not for the shoddy reliability of the Red Bull. Let's hope Webber does not have the same bad luck this season. However, I am a firm believer in form being temporary, class being permanent, so I expect Vettel to far outpace him for the majority of the season. However, good luck Webber!

  • Comment number 10.

    If Webber can cut out his over aggressive style then I see no reason why he can't win the championship. Vettel still lacks the cutting edge in terms of overtaking, and if Webber can get the jump on the young protege in qualies then he really would dump a whole load of psychological pressure on the young Hun...

  • Comment number 11.

    Obviously F1 is dead.... not sure why or how as the sport seems in rude good health to me, all we need is for Bernie to take a step back and someone other than Tilke to be allowed to alter/design new tracks and we will be good for a few more years.

    @9 - I don't think anyone is saying that Mark is the best in the biz or at the top of the fantasy driver list. F1 form is about a load more than just being the best driver, at the moment Mark is on the crest of the wave and making the most of it and if he can do well enough he might get himself a WDC at the end of the season.

    @10 - What? You think that Vettel still needs to prove his overtaking skills.... I didn't realise his skills had diminished since last season when you attacked me for saying that ;-)

  • Comment number 12.

    Agree with a lot of people here, if Button or Lewis can't win it then I'd be happy to see the title go to Mark. I love his honesty and remember his interview after China 2008 when he got knocked off the track by one S. Vettel, and he interviewed lvie saying 'this is what happens when you let kids in, they **** things up'

    Love his brutal honesty here.

    As for the sport dying...are you mad? 3 tyre manufacturers scrapping to be supplier when bridgestone leave, a championship with 19 races possibility of growing to 25, sure the overtaking is a little lacking, but hopefully these things wil be sorted for enxt season, then theres the US GP returning, which will bring in sponsors especially now the GP will be in the heart of oil country!

    I do agree though...Tilke needs to be overlooked when anyone wants to build a new circuit. The only good new race track to offer anything to the spectators is Abu Dhabi! I hope he doesn't fail in Austin for 2012!

  • Comment number 13.

    why are bridgestone leaving?

  • Comment number 14.

    I looked at the championship odds at the start of the year and thought Webber would be a good bet at 14-1, so I put £20 quid down. Vettel had much better odds but surely a Webber with a much better leg, more experienced with a wiser head than the young German would be a good shout. Plus he seems a top bloke. It's looking good so far, so go Marky boy!

    (Last season pre-season I nearly did the same for Button as he had good odds, and thought the Brawn effect plus skipping ahead a season in development would pay dividends. Imagine my relief that I didn't when Honda pulled out of F1... followed by a different feeling a few weeks then months later...).

  • Comment number 15.

    Aye, I agree with several person here about Webber take title if Jenson and Lewis fail.

    Also agree about honestly, very few F1 have that kind of quality.

    Jenson, Webber, Massa and Rosberg are them.

  • Comment number 16.

    German short-haired pointer? It looks more like a weimaraner.

  • Comment number 17.

    does anyone here know how to spell?

    lvie nlog nad propser

  • Comment number 18.

    V
    V (llap)

    gj webber, I hope u do well. But no one mentions, you talk 'fair racing' but are one of the most aggressive racers (not totally unfairly) eg Barrachelo barge last year, belting Hamilton in Oz, sometimes you keep your foot in when the game is lost, and either you or your opponent is bumped off. If you finesse that aspect of your racing, I think you're favourite for the title.

    Just IMO, sometimes I'm wrong...

  • Comment number 19.

    German short-haired pointer..? Sounds like Mark's team-mate after getting pole...

  • Comment number 20.

    Re, comment 16, that may well be, but Webber tells me it is indeed a pointer.

  • Comment number 21.

    Webber is one of the most overrated drivers on the Grid. However much Horner says they will keep their pairing for next season I highly doubt it (Raikkonen will be back). Webber could do a Damon Hill this year and win the WDC with a car that is clearly superior to everyone elses by a country mile but then find himself without a drive and have to go hunting around for a team where he will be the same standard as he always was like Hill ending up at Arrows. In 1996 Villineuve pushed Hill hard and had his own relaibility issues just like Vettel has been having this year. Please stop bigging up Webber so much, if you want to look at the best drivers on the grid its Hamilton, Vettel and Alonso but they are all the best in different ways. They are followed by drivers such as Massa, Button and Rosberg and then Another group which is where I rate Webber.

  • Comment number 22.

    Hi Andrew, one question off topic; with BBC One HD lunches later this year does this mean that F1 will be in HD as well?

  • Comment number 23.

    @ 21 ... How is Webber overrated more than Vettel? You have got to be kidding. Vettel has a great record because he came into F1 and lucked out by joining RedBull just as they peaked. Put Vettel in any other car on the grid and he is behind Hamilton, Button and Alonso for sure.

    I can not understand why people have this love affair with Vettel when he has never proved himself. If he leaves RedBull or the others catch red bull performance wise, Vettel will never win the championship.

  • Comment number 24.

    Hey! Thats a Wiemaraner! Not a short haired German Pointer!

    I think Webber is a little overated but at the moment hes on form and beating SV in every race and thats obviously whats caused this little upset. The footage shows vettel, although given a small amount of space, clearly veered to the right into Marks car! I blame Vettel 100% and I think Webber was more than a little gracious by staying tight lipped about the incident, professional to the end.

    Shame on Chrisian Horner though, really is not good when your team boss sides with one of the drivers, he ought to be more diplomatic and impartial in these incodents abit like Martin Whitmarsh. Poor show Horner.

    I hope that webber goes on to win the championship this year. Would be nice to see him back and as for Overratted..Rakkionen? Hes the most overated drive ever to enter F1 and personally Im glad to see the back of the moody bighead. Awful driver and I hope he doesnt come back.

    HB

    I think also that Vettel is a little overated too, that car is like the Williams car that Hill drove in 1996....My grandmother could have won in that car.

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    Drives well when cross !

 

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