Following yesterday’s Spanish Grand Prix BBC F1 pundit Eddie Jordan- ever the cheeky chappy- posed Red Bull boss Christian Horner with a question: “surely, in terms of your aspirations of winning the championship, the wrong man won?”
It’s typical of Eddie to ask a question like this, one that he must know will never get a straight answer. Does he expect Horner to reply with “well yes Eddie, Mark’s good on his day but ultimately Sebastian’s our golden boy and, honestly, we wish it was him on the top step”? Never going to happen. Horner gave a typically rehearsed answer about both drivers having equal status and how pleased he was to have two title challengers in the team.
But Eddie might have a point- victory for Webber may well not be what the Red Bull hierarchy want. The general view in F1 is that whilst Webber is a very talented driver, brilliant on his day, he can’t sustain a world championship push in the way Vettel can. And, in a world championship that looks as close as this one currently does, having Webber start on pole and dominate might not be what the team need. So the question is really this: can Mark Webber emerge as a genuine title contender in 2010?
If the Spanish weekend is anything to go by he certainly can. He beat his teammate to pole and then utterly dominated the race, never facing a challenge on the track and ultimately taking a very comfortable victory.
But world titles are won on consistency, and Mark really needs start delivering on a more frequent basis. Last year he seemed to be sneaking in to the championship battle, taking four straight podiums- including his brilliant maiden win at the Nurburgring- whilst title leader Jenson Button faltered. Then the wheels came off. At both Valencia and Spa he qualified and finished 9th; Monza saw him down in 10th on the grid and eliminated by a first lap collision; brake issues forced him out in Singapore and a nightmare Japanese Grand Prix saw him fail to set a time in qualifying and finish the race last. By the time he got to Brazil- a race he won- the championship was already gone.
He’s already had a few bad results in 2010. His victory yesterday and a 2nd place in Malaysia are somewhat marred by 8th in both Bahrain and China and a 9th place finish in Australia, a race where a rash overtaking attempt saw him slam in to the back of Lewis Hamilton in the closing laps.
And this brings up another issue: Mark sometimes seems to be a victim of the red mist when things go wrong. Despite his experience he can get flustered and try a move that just isn’t possible, typically ending in tears and shards of carbon fibre. This isn’t a problem when you take pole and can scamper away from the front, but when he’s down the grid- as he’s bound to be at some point this year- it can affect him. Vettel doesn’t seem to suffer from this. He’s far cooler, far less emotional, in the heat of battle.
And it’s that cool, calm teammate of his who Webber has to beat- and beat consistently- to have a shot at the championship. Post-Spain Webber is just 7 points shy of Vettel, though that’s a bit flattering on the Aussie, who’s suffered less from reliability issues. Last season Vettel trounced Webber in qualifying, beating him 14 times in 17 races, and though Webber actually finished higher in the grand prix more often it was Sebastian who scored the most points. 2009 was Vettel’s year.
But this is 2010, a new season, and Webber, now closer to full fitness following last season’s bicycle accident blues, is raring to go. Qualifying is currently 3-2 to Vettel, suggesting things are closer, and yesterday showed that Sebastien is by no means the only Red Bull driver capable of dominating a race.
One thing does seem certain: this is Webber’s best shot at the title. The RB6 is the class of the field, there’s no doubt of that, and it’d be huge surprise to see anyone close the nearly one second a lap advantage they have in qualifying any time soon. Red Bull can- and should- continue to dominate on most tracks, and so long as the reliability issues are ironed out their drivers should be able to take the lead of the world championship.
If that does happen we could be set for a battle between the two Red Bulls for this year’s world championship, a straight inter-team fight to determine who is the quickest, most complete driver. In that event Webber- whilst not the favourite- would be in with a shout.
But, if the other teams make up the ground you have to wonder whether Webber can do it, and whether it might be better for Vettel to be taking home the bulk of the points. In a more even, combative title battle it’s the young German you’d have to put your money on.
Did the wrong man win yesterday? Absolutely not- Webber was peerless on the Circuit de Catalunya- but that isn’t what Jordan was getting at. His question meant could that same man launch a serious world title bid? Maybe- but he’ll need the chips to fall just right for him if he is to do so. Vettel on the other hand will be there regardless.
Is Mark Webber capable of winning the world championship? Would Red Bull have been happier with a Vettel win yesterday? Go on, tell us what you think.