Guest writer Andrew Tsvyk turns his analytical eye on Mark Webber’s performance at Red Bull in 2008 – and asks how he might fare alongside Sebastian Vettel in 2009.
Mark Webber is an enigma for me. The Australian has outclassed every team-mate fate threw at him during his tenure in Formula 1 but, nevertheless, failed to produce a stir results-wise. Let’s take a look at how he performed in 2008.
Having impressed during his debut season for Minardi in 2002, Webber moved up the career ladder and found himself at the wheel of a Jaguar in the following year. During this time he became widely recognized as one of the sport?óÔé¼Ôäós best qualifiers, capable of pushing mediocre machinery to the sharp end of the starting grid.
Sir Frank Williams was impressed; after all, the driver who brought him his first world title, Alan Jones, was from down under, too. Unfortunately, the relationship between Webbo and the Williams team was not a success. Webber returned to the ex-Jaguar team, which during his absence had become Red Bull Racing?óÔé¼?ª
This year was Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós second consecutive season with the Milton Keynes-based outfit. He scored a total of 21 points, which put him 11th in the final drivers?óÔé¼Ôäó standings.
Out of 18 Grands Prix, the Australian finished in the top eight on eight occasions, beating such drivers as Nelson Piquet Jnr and Timo Glock who, arguably, had better cars. Outgoing team mate, David Coulthard, finished in the top eight only twice, so the blame for Red-Bull Renault?óÔé¼Ôäós dismal performance in the constructors?óÔé¼Ôäó championship probably rests on the Scot?óÔé¼Ôäós shoulders.
In this article I shall try to take a closer look at Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós seventh F1 season, which started on March, 16 in Melbourne, Australia.
Round 1. The Australian Grand Prix
The season started with Mark Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós home Grand Prix, held at the beautiful Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne. And as has often been the case in recent years, Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós season got off to a disappointing start.
Despite making it through to the second part of qualifying, the Australian was unable to complete a flying lap due to brake problems. This left him 15th on the starting grid. But worse awaited the Red-Bull driver the following day. The 2008 Australian Grand Prix was one of the shortest in Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós career, as his race was over in turn three as a result of a multiple-car incident.
Round 2. The Malaysian Grand Prix
After a slow start to the season in Australia, Webber managed to open his points account at the Sepang Circuit. Friday practice resulted in a scare for the Red Bull organization as David Coulthard had a crash in turn 12 as a result of a suspension failure. The FIA was not impressed and threatened to exclude the team from the event on safety grounds. Luckily, Red Bull?óÔé¼Ôäós staff managed to provide evidence there were no faults in the suspension design.
Webber managed to reward the team for their efforts, putting the RB4 in eighth in qualifying. On Sunday he made a sensational start and was running fourth at the end of lap one. Webber held onto that spot until his first pit stop on lap 16. After the first series of stops for tyres and fuel the Red Bull driver was running in tenth spot, just ahead of Lewis Hamilton, the world championship leader, who spent many laps unable to overtake the Red Bull. However, keeping Hamilton at bay proved impossible for Webber and he slipped to seventh, scoring two points.
Round 3. The Bahrain Grand Prix
Webber had another strong race at the Sakhir International Circuit, the venue for the fifth annual Grand Prix of Bahrain. Despite missing out Q3 by a tiny margin, the Australian had a great start, profiting from the problems of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.
The Red Bull driver spent the rest of the race inside the top eight, battling with the likes of Nico Rosberg and Jarno Trulli. In the closing stages of the Grand Prix Webber managed to pass Rosberg, but Trulli proved a tougher nut to crack. Webber had to be content with seventh place, but it meant two more points.
Round 4. The Spanish Grand Prix
During winter testing the Red Bull cars topped the time sheets on more than one occasion at the Circuit de Catalunya; therefore, nobody was really surprised to see Webber having another solid qualifying performance.
The experienced Australian racer also managed to transform his good starting position into a strong result in the race. Taking advantage from the misfortunes of Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen, Mark made it home in fifth spot, his best result at that point of the season.
Round 5. The Turkish Grand Prix
Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós string of points finishes continued at Istanbul Speed Park. Following a sixth spot in qualifying session, he added another two points to his already impressive tally. The start of the race was quite eventful, as he came under attack from Fernando Alonso. The rest of the Grand Prix proved to be less action-packed, but the Australian managed to hang on to a place inside the top-eight.
Round 6. The Monaco Grand Prix
The 2008 edition of world?óÔé¼Ôäós most famous Grand Prix saw the first wet race at the principality in 12 years. Webber grabbed ninth spot on the starting grid, maximising his chances of getting a good result.
The race on Sunday was run under adverse conditions and saw many crashes. But, unlike his team-mate, David Coulthard, and the Toro Rosso driver, Sebastian Bourdais, Webber managed to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, he did tap Alonso, near the Mirabeau corner, after the Renault driver had misjudged an attempt to pass Nick Heidfeld. But this was not Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós fault, as the Mirabeau complex is so tight he had nowhere to go.
Apart from that, the Red Bull driver drove flawlessly throughout the entire race and profited from Kimi Raikkonen and Adrian Sutil?óÔé¼Ôäós collision with just a few laps to go to record his best finish of the season.
Round 7. The Canadian Grand Prix
Mark Webber ?óÔé¼?£s qualifying session in Montreal was cut short when he lost control of his Red Bull in Q3 on the crumbling track surface. Nevertheless, Webber started from the top ten and was mixing it at the front of the field following several safety car interventions. Unfortunately, his two stop strategy proved to be inadequate for a race full of safety car periods and his series of top-eight finishes came to an end.
Unlike Webber, team mate Coulthard used the chaos to his advantage. Coulthard earned his first points of the season by finishing third. The result would mark Coulthard?óÔé¼Ôäós last podium in Formula 1, and he soon announced his retirement from the sport following the end of the 2008 season.
Round 8. The French Grand Prix
F1’s return to Europe also marked a return to points for Webber. After another successful qualifying he put on a stunning display of his talent on Sunday. Despite being out-gunned by Toyota?óÔé¼Ôäós Jarno Trulli during the opening lap of the race, Webber coped with the pressure of keeping both of the works Renaults at bay brilliantly. As a result, the Australian added three more points to his tally.
Round 9. The British Grand Prix
Webber put together another superb lap in qualifying, losing less than half a second to Heikki Kovalainen, the pole-sitter. That put Webber second on the starting grid, giving him a lot of optimism for the race.
Unfortunately, it all went sour for Webber on lap one, as the Australian driver hit a paddle on the entrance to Becketts and spun. Fortunately, the rest of the field avoided his stranded car and he rejoined at the back of the field. Webber was able to recover some of the lost ground, overtaking several rivals in the process. But he’d missed a chance to score more points.
Round 10. The German Grand Prix
In one of the most exciting races of the season Webber was left disappointed following a rare mechanical failure. In his usual style, the Australian easily made it into the top ten in qualifying, but had to relinquish a position to a hard-charging Sebastian Vettel on lap one.
Nevertheless, points were still possible, as Webber battled the likes of Alonso and Vettel until his engine let go on lap 40. This is how Mark Webber himself described his performance at the Hockenheimring:
We knew it would be a tight race with the guys that were around us on the grid. I had a good fight with Vettel on the first lap and, as the race unfolded, there wasn’t much between the cars. We know the weaknesses of our car here and we’ll work on those before the next race. It was my first mechanical retirement this year; we’ll have to check what caused it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Round 11. The Hungarian Grand Prix
Despite qualifying in the top-eight, Webber came home only in ninth spot, just a place shy from the points. He drove steadily and made no mistakes, but it was not enough to hold on to a spot inside the top eight. In Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós own words: ?óÔé¼?ôWe weren’t quick enough?óÔé¼?Ø.
Round 12. The European Grand Prix
Surprisingly, Webber did not shine in qualifying, posting only the 14th fastest time. His race was ruined by a conservative one-stop strategy and no safety car periods, which the team had hoped for. Anyway, it was one of those weekends during which things did not go Mark?óÔé¼Ôäós way.
Round 13. The Belgian Grand Prix
Webber scored a point, following Timo Glock?óÔé¼Ôäós penalty for overtaking the Red Bull under yellow flags. Webber had suffered a setback early in the race, when he was hit by Kovalainen at the bus stop chicane.
Under the circumstances, picking up a point was not such a bad outcome. However, Webber was definitely disappointed, as he believed that without the altercation with Kovalainen, he could have finished a lot higher. The Red Bull driver started the race from seventh spot and was running as high as fifth before the accident. No wonder he was expecting more than a point.
Round 14. The Italian Grand Prix
It was raining on Saturday in Monza, but that did not cause any problems for Webber. He put his Renault-powered Red Bull in third spot of the grid, less than 0.6 sec behind the sister car (albeit with a now more powerful Ferrari engine) of Vettel, which stood on pole position.
In the race, which began in rain on a soaked track, Webber held onto his place early on, but lost a lot of time after his first stop:
We came out after the first stop behind Robert and Fernando and lost a lot of time on the fresh tyres. That’s when Heikki got a really good gap on me, so the first seven or eight laps behind them killed the tyres and trying to go through them wasn’t easy so lost some time.
The loss of pace during the second stint allowed some of the drivers behind him to pass. On lap 59 Webber made an attempt to pass Hamilton in turn one. The pair banged wheels, but Hamilton kept his place. In the end, only eighth place was possible for Webber, which must have been a bit disappointing for him, considering his starting position – and the fact that future team mate Vettel won.
Round 15. The Singapore Grand Prix
Mark grabbed only 13th starting position for the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix. While such a result is never good on a street-course, as it is always difficult to pass, Webber could have had a strong outing nonetheless. The start of the Grand Prix was quite eventful for him, as he passed Honda?óÔé¼Ôäós Jenson Button, but also lost a position to the fast-starting Renault of Alonso.
Webber made his first pit stop just before the safety car period, which gave him a chance to move up the order. Unfortunately, Mark would be unable to reap the rewards of a good strategy that day, as the Red Bull driver suffered his second mechanical failure of the season:
I lost seventh and then fifth gear, which cost us a fantastic result, as I was stopping for my second pit stop later than [Alonso]. It would have been nice to share the podium with him today, with him winning and me second. We got a bit lucky with the safety car, but in the end it didn’t work out.
Round 16. The Japanese Grand Prix
The 2008 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway marked another race in which Webber could not make it through the cut to Q3, having to make do with 13th once again. Unfortunately on race day he had a poor start, falling to the back of the field. However, the car proved to be quite competitive, allowing Webber to regain some of the lost positions. Webber made an excellent recovery, passing Heidfeld (twice) and Barrichello during the early stages of the Grand Prix.
He opted for a one-stop strategy which proved the right thing to do. Running as high as fourth before stopping, Webber found himself in eighth position less than seven laps from the end. Unfortunately, Felipe Massa?óÔé¼Ôäós Ferrari was getting bigger in Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós rear-view mirrors. Driving on badly-worn tires, Mark could do little to hold Massa?óÔé¼Ôäós Ferrari behind and the Brazilian passed on lap 65 out of 67.
This dropped Webber down to ninth, but after Sebastien Bourdais?óÔé¼Ôäós penalty he was elevated up to eighth and scored a point – his last in the 2008 season.
Round 17. The Chinese Grand Prix
Webber?óÔé¼Ôäós hopes for a good race in China were dashed even before qualifying got under way, as he suffered an engine failure. Making an unscheduled engine change costs 10 places on the starting grid in modern Formula 1, and that is exactly what happened to Mark. The Australian was sixth fastest, but was forced to start from 16th?óÔé¼?ª
Nevertheless, after a strong getaway, Mark produced several highlights of the race, passing Glock, Barrichello and Piquet. Unfortunately, a two-stop strategy did not pay off, leaving Webber stuck in the midfield?óÔé¼?ª
Round 18. The Brazilian Grand Prix
In 2007 Webber was running fourth behind the leading Ferraris and Alonso?óÔé¼Ôäós McLaren?óÔé¼?ª but on lap 15 another mechanical failure ended his race. Therefore Webber had every reason to except a lot from the season finale at Interlagos this year. Unfortunately, the car lacked speed andhe failed to reach Q3 once again.
Starting 12th, Webber moved a few places up the leader board on the opening lap of the race, but changeable weather conditions did not help his cause and he could not get out of midfield. He crossed the finish line in ninth which he described as ?óÔé¼?ôdisappointing?óÔé¼?Ø, bringing a season of highs and lows to a close.
Next year will see Sebastian Vettel join Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing. Who will get the upper hand?
Read more about Mark Webber: Mark Webber biography