Any armchair psychologist could read the state of Mark Webber’s mind as he turned his back on the F1 paddock and headed for the Australian surf after the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend.
“It’s three weeks to the next race, we’re fortunate we have three weeks,” said Webber afterwards. “I’ll catch some waves in Australia on my board and I think this will be good medicine for me.
“I had a lot of thoughts going through my mind in the last 15 laps of the Grand Prix so whether the medicine is enough, we’ll see.”
Of course the events of the race have soured his relationship with Red Bull. But there’s more than that on his mind at the moment.
“No drivers are really on the limit today”
Webber has been one of the more outspoken critics of the current generation of “designed to degrade” tyres. He struggled with them when they were introduced in 2011, and though he has adjusted his style to suit he does not believe they are right for Formula One.
I spoke to Webber several times during pre-season testing as he sampled the 2013-specification Pirelli, which degrade even faster previous versions, for the first time. In every interview he gave a dig at the Italian company’s product, however slight, was seldom far from his lips.
And in the press conference after the Malaysian Grand Prix, when his invective would naturally have been targetted at his team mate, Webber’s criticism was directed at least as much at the tyres:
“The thing is I think it’s quite good for the neutral, good for the fans and good for probably new people that are following Formula One, but the old – let’s say people who have more of a grasp of the sport and more education of where the sport was – it’s still a little bit hit and miss.
“With what we had, probably not much of an idea that’s how the race would go for us today. I was surprised that other people were not with us, completely, people won’t believe that but that’s the case, and also I think, for the junior categories they need to get the tyres and things better for young drivers to learn how to push the cars to the limit and drive absolutely on the edge.
“You watch Rafa Nadal and Roger Federer play each other and it’s playing with the lines, it’s playing with precision for a five set match and we all enjoy watching that but at the moment we’re driving at eight and a half tenths, eight tenths, conserving our pace and some more situations like this will probably happen in the future because there’s a lot of ambiguity in who’s (on the) pace and who’s quick.
“Seb feels he’s strong only in the middle of the race then I could respond. The racing is completely around nursing and trying to make the tyres survive and they’re not conducive to driving a car on the limit. You don’t see us really pushing on the limit. Obviously Seb and I had a push in the middle in our last stint but generally no drivers are really on the limit today.”
Webber and Stoner
Webber’s words reminded me of what his fellow Australian Casey Stoner said when he announced his retirement from Moto GP last year. Aged 26 at the time and already a two-times champion on two wheels, Stoner’s retirement was motivated by a litany of grievances including changes in the sport’s regulations which introduced a slower class of bikes:
“After so many years of doing this sport which I love, and which myself and my family made so many sacrifices for, after so many years of trying to get to where we have gotten to at this point, this sport has changed a lot and it has changed to the point where I am not enjoying it.
“I don’t have the passion for it and so at this time it’s better if I retire now.
“There are a lot of things that have disappointed me, and also a lot of things I have loved about this sport, but unfortunately the balance has gone in the wrong direction.”
These were Stoner’s words as he announced his retirement last year. After the humiliation of Malaysia, and with the current generation of tyres sapping his passion for the sport, it’s not hard to imagine Webber saying something similar in the near future.
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