With two rounds to go in the 2011 F1 World Championship, six-time race winner Webber is more than 100 points behind Sebastian Vettel, has yet to win a race and is getting beaten by a Ferrari and a McLaren. So what’s wrong?
This is not the Mark Webber Aussie F1 fans signed up for, and certainly not the season Mark Webber signed up for. After stunning the world by almost taking the 2010 F1 World Championship (he was leading with three rounds to go), how could it have all gone so wrong this year? Yet to win a race while team-mate Sebastian Vettel (admittedly a freak of nature) has scored 11, Webber is now racing not for second places but for thirds and fourths as McLaren’s Jenson Button and Ferrari’s Fernando Alsono get the better of him. All the while Vettel continues to romp away.
The honest opinion is that few would believe Webber has the natural pace to rival Vettel, but this level of dominance by the German on the Aussie, who has regularly out-paced team-mates and always looked sharp, just doesn’t seem right. It’s disappointing, but there are a few factors which may suggest reasons we are seeing what is probably Webber’s most disappointing season in Formula 1.
Firstly, he races to win. The F1 community praised him for his Alan Jones-like mentality when he entered F1. The straight talking, hard working Webber was in it to win it and nothing else mattered. After Jones had two ultra-successful years in 1980 and 1981 (including a Championship win), he went cold on the sport and left before making a rather uninspired comeback in the mid-80s. Webber knows 2010 is likely to have been his one and only shot at the title. He’s publicly admitted that himself. And it’s likely to be true – Webber is a realist, after all. Knowing that, it would be hard to be motivated for the rest of the season and possibly into next season, while Vettel continues to romp away, getting faster by each race.
The Red Bull Racing Renault RB7 does not suit Webber’s driving style like the RB6 did. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or an F1 engineer to know that. It’s evident in Webber’s performances. On tracks he dominated at last year, this year he is know where. Vettel, on the other hand, who took a while to get to grips with the RB6, is right at home in the RB7. It’s not an excuse, it’s a fact that some drivers adapt better to certain car characteristics. Even double World Champion Fernando Alonso has had issues like this. In 2004, with Jarno Trulli as his team mate (who has only ever won a single Grands Prix, the 2004 Monaco race), he was getting out-scored and outclassed until Renault team principle Flavio Briatore axed Trulli. It makes it hard for Webber to be motivated if he knows the car isn’t right for him. The harsh reality, though, is that next year’s car is likely to have been built for Vettel.
Finally, 2012 is likely to be Webber’s last year in Formula 1. I don’t want to believe that, and I don’t believe many other Aussie fans do either, but Webber has spoken openly about retirement and insists Red Bull Racing will be the last team he races for in F1. Knowing this, and knowing that this car is not suited to him, the motivation to race for second in the championship isn’t enough of a carrot. If he was younger and more keen to impress, it probably would be. Or if he had signed a long-term contract like Jenson Button just did, perhaps it would be different. But Webber is now on year-to-year contracts with Red Bull junior drivers biting at his heels.
2012 will hopefully be his year. He is in the top team and is a race winner, aside from a Championship (which he doesn’t believe he will get at this stage of his career), what’s left? The idea of racing for second through third each race isn’t appealing at all, so wait for next year where you might be able to sneak a win or two and go out on that high.
Whatever the case, the mojo has well and truly left the Webber camp in 2011. The media knows it too. They have stopped asking Webber about his races – just look at Autosport today. Nothing on the Aussie. Here’s hoping that he can recover in 2012 and sneak a win in this year to save a bit of cred.
Images: Red Bull Racing Media
Damian Francis has previously edited Australian T3 and F1 Racing magazine and wrote for GQ Australia and Men’s Health. Unlike Nick and Trev, he has no kids, no mortgage and no wife, but lives happily on Sydney’s North Shore with his girlfriend.