Mark Webber

Mark Webber’s ticks and crosses for F1 2017

Which driver is ‘special’, and who was ‘weak’? Who is mentally tough, the most reliable, and the best racer of the lot? The Aussie ex-F1 ace has his say.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM

Mark Webber was always a racer who left nothing on the table; the man who goes by the apt Twitter handle of @AussieGrit determinedly squeezed every drop out of his 12-year Formula One career, which produced nine victories for Red Bull Racing. And he did so in a style that was so refreshing for those who watched (or covered) the sport in his heyday, being as forthright as it gets, pulling no punches and pissing in no pockets. Want a perfectly banal soundbite that says nothing in as many words as possible while sitting on the fence? You’ve come to the wrong place.

The Aussie keeps up to speed with the sport in which he made his name by working for Channel 4 in the UK, and with his knowledge of how F1 works and access to the heavy-hitters within it, Webber’s opinion on any number of subjects makes him compelling listening. So, with that in mind, we pressed ‘record’ and let Webber have his say on the drivers, teams and issues that have caught his eye as we get set for the season to resume with this Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix at the venerable Spa-Francorchamps circuit.

Webber on … Lewis Hamilton

“Both he and Seb (Sebastian Vettel) have driven awesome this year, and Lewis particularly in qualifying has been very strong. He’s the best since (Ayrton) Senna over one lap – he’s very special on Saturdays.

“I think he has respect at the top level for two to three guys on the grid because he’s on such a high level – Seb and Fernando (Alonso) probably, maybe two or three others.

“He’s in the peak of his career, the hunger and passion is at its maximum, and he likes to put a bit of drama, a bit of heat on himself to go and deliver. He enjoys that and it seems to bring out the best in him.”

Webber on … Vettel and Ferrari

“Baku (when Vettel clashed with Hamilton under the safety car at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix) was a crazy rush of blood with the re-start procedure, and there were obviously some mind games going on that day, which is totally standard. He had a weak moment where he elected to pull alongside Lewis and give him a little rub. It wasn’t ideal and didn’t look great, and he certainly regrets it. But at the end of the day, it was not exactly dangerous, it just wasn’t a great example. You’d be in more danger crossing the street in Italy than that …

“I think Ferrari have done a great job this year. Operationally they’ve made a big step, because I think they’ve been very flaky on that in the past. The performance is there at a lot of tracks – it’s all well and good being strong on a few circuits, but the car doesn’t seem so temperature-sensitive for it to perform this year. I think Kimi (Raikkonen) likes these regulations as well, the previous regs weren’t something that he enjoyed. It’s great for Ferrari that they have two guys up there going pretty quick. Can they sustain it for the rest of the year? I reckon they can.”

Webber on … where Red Bull sits

“Both of the guys have driven well this year, but Max (Verstappen) has probably been a bit flaky in terms of the build-up to the races through the weekend, he’s been going off the road a lot on Friday and Saturday, which puts pressure on mechanics getting the car ready. I’d like to see him on the road a bit more, but he’s pushing the limits. When it comes to Sundays, he hasn’t made many mistakes at all, it’s been a lot of high-profile reliability retirements where he’s lost a truckload of points, so that’s been hard for him to swallow.

Daniel (Ricciardo) is just so solid on Sunday afternoons, he’s the most reliable driver in F1 in that you know what he’s going to deliver week-in, week-out. He’s always got the most out of what they’ve given him and it’s hard to see how he could have done much more.

“We all expected such great things from this car this year, but it came out the box very poorly. They had a lot of catching up to do. With Renault (engines), it’s unfortunately a little bit of a broken record, ‘we haven’t got this, we haven’t got that’ – it’s been going on for five years. (Red Bull) have to make a car a second faster than everyone else, maybe.”

Webber on … Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes

“He’s had a good year – new environment, new team and all that. And Lewis is no angel when it comes to testing the boundaries of it being all about him, which is what you expect at that level, it has to be all about you, you have to be selfish. So Valtteri has done a good job. He lost a lot of points in Barcelona (with a retirement), but he’s been very steady, and there’s been so many opportunities for him to make some screw-ups, and he hasn’t. He got absolutely tonked in Bahrain when Seb and Lewis put 30-40 seconds on the rest of the field, but then Russia, he was magic there and he just cleaned up.

“I’ll be fascinated to see how he goes in the back part of the season. There’s a lot of circuits and a lot of travel and it is different when you’re at the front, but he’s very good mentally. He’s not going anywhere.”

Webber on … Fernando Alonso and McLaren

“It’s been a big shame for Formula One, a big shame for Honda, a big shame for McLaren. They loaded their guns up and got Fernando back there waiting for the engine to fire, but it hasn’t happened. He’s been biting his tongue for the last 24 months, and he can’t drive the thing any harder. His stock is still incredible, and on Sundays he’s probably the best in the world. That’s the frustrating bit.”

Webber on … the new-breed 2017 F1 cars

“I think we definitely had to do something to help the drivers – it was like they were trained to fly F/A-18s but flying for Qantas the past few years, and that was extremely boring for them. We had to find a way for them to be stimulated again and be tested, be off the road, have the odd shunt here and there, be pushed. We can’t have guys doing full Grands Prix at seven-tenths. If we’re not engaged, it’s hard for the consumer to be connected. If we didn’t have, say, a net for Roger (Federer) and Rafa (Nadal), then we wouldn’t be engaged, would we? You want to have something that makes it testing for them.

“These cars are definitely a step forward in terms of stimulation for the drivers, but as far as the racing goes, it depends on what your definition of great racing is. Barcelona this year – it was between two guys in Seb and Lewis and there wasn’t a huge amount of passing, but it was pretty phenomenal with the pressure and intensity. Lewis on the radio that day was blowing hard, he needed every tenth (of a second) he could get.”

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Alan Jones and the pain in Spain

The 1980 F1 world champion remembers a win that wasn’t.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

The record books show that just one Australian – Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber in 2010 – has won the Spanish Formula One Grand Prix. But Alan Jones, the F1 world champion in 1980, knows better. There was a Spanish Grand Prix that year, and he won it. End of story. But as is often the case in F1, there’s a story behind that story. And one that, as we prepare for the 2016 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya this weekend, bears repeating.

Many forests have been felled on the reporting of the so-called FISA-FOCA ‘war’ in the late 1970s/early 80s, but here’s the abridged(ish) version.

Headed by president Jean-Marie Balestre, FISA (Federation Internationale du Sport Automobile) was a sub-committee of the FIA (Federation Internationale du Automobile), the governing body of world motorsport. FOCA (Formula One Constructors’ Association) was a group headed by Brabham team owner Bernie Ecclestone (you may have heard of him) which was seeking changes and clarity to the sporting, technical and commercial aspects of F1. The larger manufacturers with more to lose from any changes to Formula One’s structure – the likes of Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo – were pro-FISA teams; the smaller teams and privateer entries seeking a better deal financially and an end to perceived bias from the rule-makers towards the major manufacturers were in the FOCA camp, which included Jones’ Williams outfit. It was a power struggle that would have dramatic consequences.

Discontent between the parties had bubbled away in the late 1970s, but Spain 1980 was where things came to a head. At the Jarama circuit outside of Madrid, FISA announced it would be fining the FOCA drivers who had failed to attend mandatory driver briefings at the previous two races in Belgium and Monaco, and that those drivers wouldn’t be allowed to race in Spain until those fines were paid. It was akin to a line in the sand. No payment was forthcoming, so sure enough, 15 FOCA drivers had their racing licences revoked just ahead of opening practice for the weekend, with the FOCA teams responding by threatening to withdraw from the meeting and setting up the prospect of a farcical six-car Grand Prix with only the FISA teams racing. With tensions high, Spanish monarch King Juan Carlos became involved, insisting the race organisers proceed with the event while bypassing the Spanish motorsport federation, which was tied to FISA. As a result, the Ferrari, Renault and Alfa Romeo teams then withdrew their drivers from the event, which became one with FOCA-aligned teams only.

Jones, now 69 and based on the Gold Coast, vividly remembers the fraught build-up to the race, and how he tried to keep his mind on the job at hand.

“I really tried to stay away as much as I possibly could from everything that was going on, it was really more an administrative thing for Frank (Williams) and the FIA – I was an employed driver, and that was it,” he says.

While chaos reigned behind the scenes, Jones had a race to win. The Australian had taken the 1980 season-opener in Argentina and had finished on the podium in all three races where he’d seen the chequered flag, but three non-finishes in the opening six rounds had him just third in the drivers’ standings behind Brazilian Nelson Piquet (Brabham) and Frenchman Rene Arnoux. Arnoux’s FISA-aligned Renault team was off the Jarama grid, and Jones spied a chance to make hay.

The Williams driver started on the front row next to Frenchman Jacques Lafitte (Ligier), and in an attritional race where just six cars finished, won by a massive 50 seconds from German Jochen Mass (Arrows) as one contender after another fell by the wayside. Jones soaked up the applause from the crowd, sprayed the champagne of victory, and figured that was that.

“All I know was that I fronted up there on the Thursday, did my practice, did qualifying, did the race, took the flag and won the Grand Prix, and received a trophy from King Juan Carlos that said ‘winner, 1980 Spanish Grand Prix’,” Jones remembers.

It was over. But was it? The next day, the FIA met in Athens and decided the race would not count for points; on July 31, nearly two months after the chequered flag had fallen for Jones, the FIA Executive Committee confirmed the race wouldn’t count towards the world championship. Jones was furious.

“The thing that really pissed me off was that if we’d had an inkling that the race wasn’t going to count for points, maybe we would have approached it differently, or not even raced,” he says.

The flashpoint in Madrid led to the drivers’ fines being paid before the next round in France, Balestre’s home Grand Prix. The race went ahead as normal with a full grid of teams and drivers, and after Jones won it, he did his slow-down lap with the FISA president in his crosshairs.

“I did a lap of honour with the Union Jack out of the car – I couldn’t find an Australian flag so I thought the English one would upset them even more,” he laughs.

“I wouldn’t go up on the podium while he (Balestre) was there – and he had to get off the podium because of TV, they couldn’t muck around. So, it shows you that what goes around comes around.”

The FISA-FOCA war would rumble on for the next couple of seasons, but Jones had a more immediate task at hand. Fortunately, the loss of his win in Spain didn’t cost him the 1980 world championship, his victory in the penultimate round in Montreal in September securing his sole world title and the first by an Australian since Jack Brabham in 1966 – and to this day, the last F1 championship won by a driver from these shores.

Jones’ compatriot Webber would win the ‘first’ Spanish Grand Prix for an Australian 30 years later, but as far as ‘AJ’ sees it, his win at Jarama is worth no more or less than any other. The record books may say 12 career wins for Jones in his 116 starts, but it’s a number he feels needs an asterisk.

“In the short-term back then, it was nine points I didn’t have towards the world championship, but these days I’m forever down as having won 12 Grands Prix,” he says.

“It was the Spanish Grand Prix, I raced and I won it. So that makes 13 in my books.”

The magnificent seven

On the anniversary of Red Bull’s first F1 win, we recap the team’s seven biggest victories.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

April 19: it’s a special date for anyone involved with Red Bull Racing, because it was on a sodden Sunday in Shanghai on that very date seven years ago that the team took in the view from the top step of an F1 podium for the first time, Sebastian Vettel winning the Chinese Grand Prix.

It was the start of something big – since, the team has won four drivers’ and constructors’ championships and 50 Grands Prix, the most recent of which coming in Belgium 2014 at the hands of Daniel Ricciardo.

Seven years on from that momentous day in Shanghai, we recap the seven most important wins in Red Bull Racing’s history.

Win #1: Walking on water
Race:
2009 Chinese Grand Prix
Date: April 19, 2009
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Mark Webber (Red Bull), 3rd Jenson Button (Brawn GP)
Jenson Button and new team Brawn GP had swept to victory in the year’s first two races in Australia and Malaysia, with Red Bull’s only points in that pair of races coming from Mark Webber’s sixth place at Sepang. But as the rain poured down in China for round three, the Bulls found their wings, Vettel cantering to a second career win, Webber achieving a career-best second, and Button the best of the rest nearly three-quarters of a minute adrift. A team that had managed just three podiums in its first four years was off and running.

Win #9: Monaco pool party
Race:
2010 Monaco Grand Prix
Date: May 16, 2010
Podium: 1st Mark Webber (Red Bull), 2nd Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 3rd Robert Kubica (Renault)
Red Bull had made a splash in the Principality before – remember Christian Horner fulfilling a pre-race bet by jumping in a swimming pool clothed only in a Superman cape after David Coulthard took the team’s first podium in Monte Carlo in 2006? But Webber’s maiden win at Monaco four years later took the celebrations to a whole new level, Red Bull winning the sport’s signature race for the first time. Both the Australian and Vettel ended up in the team’s pool at the Energy Station after the race, and the drivers decided to jump in the harbour soon afterwards. It might have been Webber’s one wrong move of the day. “Mediterranean diesel,” was his colourful description of a harbour filled with the after-effects of people partying on boats for the weekend …

Win #15: Drama in the desert
Race:
2010 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix
Date: November 14, 2010
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Lewis Hamilton (McLaren), 3rd Jenson Button (McLaren)
Title-deciders don’t get much more tense than this. Both Red Bull drivers, along with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s championship leader Fernando Alonso, arrived at the final race of the year in mathematical contention for the crown; an early-race decision by Ferrari to pit Alonso to cover off Webber saw the Spaniard stuck behind the rocket-fast Renault of Vitaly Petrov for most of the race, allowing pole-sitter Vettel to escape at the front. Alonso finished seventh, Webber eighth – and Vettel cruised to victory to become the youngest world champion in F1 history. Remarkably, it was the only time he’d led the championship standings all season.

Win #41: Seb’s Singapore stormer
Race:
2013 Singapore Grand Prix
Date: September 22, 2013
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Fernando Alonso (Ferrari), 3rd Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
Vettel did a lot of winning in six years at Red Bull – 38 of the team’s 50 victories, to be exact – but was he ever more dominant than on the Singapore city streets in 2013? A mid-race safety car caused by Daniel Ricciardo crashing his Toro Rosso saw Vettel stay out rather than pit for new tyres, and when the race resumed, he tore off at a rate two seconds a lap faster than anyone else. His winning margin – 32.627 seconds – was the biggest for more than eight years, and he achieved a rare grand chelem (grand slam) by winning the race after starting from pole and leading every lap while setting the fastest lap of the race. Under the floodlights, it was a case of Vettel first, daylight second.

Win #44: Awesome foursome
Race:
2013 Indian Grand Prix
Date: October 27, 2013
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 3rd Romain Grosjean (Lotus)
Vettel arrived in India needing just five points to secure a fourth world title, and off the back of five straight wins, there was never a surer thing. No cruise and collect mode here – the German took pole and fought his way back after an early pit stop to win by 29 seconds, celebrating on the start-finish straight on his lap back to the pits with a series of donuts. It was the last of three races at the Buddh International Circuit in New Delhi, Vettel winning all of them.

Win #47: End of an era
Race:
2013 Brazilian Grand Prix
Date: November 24, 2013
Podium: 1st Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull), 2nd Mark Webber (Red Bull), 3rd Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
Vettel equalled Alberto Ascari’s 1952-53 record of winning nine straight races, while Webber joined him on the podium in his final race before retirement in the perfect send-off to their wildly successful – and sometimes acrimonious – five-year run as teammates that produced 47 wins and four constructors’ titles. It was their 16th 1-2 finish together and a fitting way for the Australian to finish his 12 years in F1, Webber driving back to the pits after crossing the finish line with his helmet off, soaking up his final lap.

Win #50: Ricciardo raises the bat
Race:
2014 Belgian Grand Prix
Date: August 24, 2014
Podium: 1st Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull), 2nd Nico Rosberg (Mercedes), 3rd Valtteri Bottas (Williams)
Ricciardo’s first two wins in Red Bull colours in Canada and Hungary in 2014 owed themselves to dramatic late-race overtakes to secure the lead; he had no such worries in Belgium after Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg tripped over one another on lap two, the Aussie cruising to a three-second win over a closing Rosberg after completely controlling the race. That Red Bull’s landmark 50th win came at one of the sport’s signature circuits made it even sweeter. “There’s definitely a few races on the calendar that stand out more than others, and Spa is one of them,” Ricciardo grinned afterwards.

Sand and deliver: the Bahrain Grand Prix

A look back at five duels in the desert that have defined the Bahrain Grand Prix.

THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM.AU

This weekend’s Bahrain Grand Prix is the 12th to be held at the Sakhir circuit just outside of Manama, and more than a decade of Formula One racing in the small island country in the Middle East has thrown up every sort of Grand Prix. Hot ones, night ones, ones that made history, even ones that never happened. And races that are rarely short of intrigue.

Ahead of the second round of the 2016 F1 season, here’s a look back at five Bahrain races that stick in the memory.

2005: The heat is on
He may have been two years away from driving for Red Bull Racing, but Mark Webber was as forthright in a Williams as he was to be later at Milton Keynes after the second Bahrain Grand Prix. “It’s bloody hot, mate,” he surmised after 57 laps in temperatures that broke 41 degrees Celsius; for those who don’t speak fluent Australian, Fernando Alonso’s assessment (“it was the hottest race I ever raced”) might make more sense. Not that it bothered the Spaniard too much; Alonso and Renault raced to victory, his second win in succession and Renault’s third straight to start the year, while reigning world champion Michael Schumacher was an early retirement for Ferrari with hydraulics failure. Alonso finished 13 seconds ahead of Toyota’s Jarno Trulli, and added to Ferrari’s misery by lapping Schumacher’s teammate Rubens Barrichello in the latter stages. For the record, Webber – who resorted to pouring a bottle of cold water inside his helmet at one pit stop – finished sixth, while for a start-up team called Red Bull Racing, David Coulthard made it three straight points finishes to start their F1 journey with eighth.

2006: The opening salvo
With Melbourne hosting the Commonwealth Games, Bahrain stepped into the breach to hold the first race of 2006, and it was a portent of things to come. Reigning world champion Alonso muscled past Schumacher after the final pit stops for the pair and held off the Ferrari driver by 1.2 seconds to take the first of seven wins for the year; their battle would last until the final race of the season in Brazil, where the Renault pilot secured his second world title and Schumacher retired from the sport for the first time. McLaren’s Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the podium after a storming drive from last on the grid after a suspension failure caused a qualifying crash, while further back, a new name announced himself as one to watch. Nico Rosberg spun his Williams at the first corner, pitted at the end of lap one and then ripped through the field to finish seventh, scoring points on debut while setting the fastest lap of the race. Away from the headlines, Scuderia Toro Rosso made its F1 debut, Tonio Liuzzi finishing 11th as the final car on the lead lap, and Scott Speed 13th.

2010: Enduring the endurance
The second time Bahrain has hosted the season-opener – and, mercifully, the first and only time the race has been run on Sakhir’s ‘endurance layout’. The extra 900 metres of track extended the number of corners from 15 to 24, added nearly 20 seconds to the overall lap time, and unofficially saw the drivers’ dentists the main beneficiaries of a bumpy layout that bounced cars and teeth around in equal measure. While the longer circuit was never used again, Alonso’s memories of Bahrain 2010 are more positive – the Spaniard won on his Ferrari debut, becoming just the sixth man to win his maiden race for the Prancing Horse, and teammate Felipe Massa made it a magic day at Maranello when he finished second, 16 seconds adrift. The hard luck story belonged to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel, who took pole and led until exhaust problems cropped up less than 20 laps from home, the German hobbling home to fourth.

2012: Seb’s overdue success
Making amends for 2010 had to wait for Vettel, as the 2011 Bahrain race was cancelled because of political unrest in the region. As the reigning and two-time world champion, there weren’t too many Grands Prix the Red Bull ace hadn’t won by April 2012 when F1 returned to Sakhir, and Vettel’s victory made it four different race winners in as many Grands Prix to start that season – seven different drivers would win the opening seven races of what became a gripping campaign. A win from pole while setting the fastest lap and leading the majority of the race indicates that, on paper at least, Vettel was untroubled; reality painted a different picture, with the Lotus of Raikkonen making life very uncomfortable for Vettel in the latter half of the race before finishing three seconds adrift. Further down the grid, first-year Toro Rosso pilot Daniel Ricciardo showed signs of things to come by qualifying a stunning sixth on Saturday – and then displayed how much he still had to learn by being elbowed all the way down to 16th on lap one on Sunday and finishing a despondent 15th. Team principal Franz Tost summed it up best. “You cannot think for a young driver in that situation for the first time that they will do everything right, because the film is running too fast,” he said.

2014: The best yet
Bahrain switched to a night Grand Prix in 2014, and the race produced a spectacular floodlit battle between Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Rosberg that set the tone for the two seasons to follow. A late-race safety car turned the Grand Prix into a frantic 10-lap sprint to the flag, and the Mercedes pit wall could barely watch as their drivers raced as close as they dared. Hamilton held off Rosberg, who had the benefit of softer tyres for the final stint, by one second after some mesmerising wheel-to-wheel action. Third-placed Sergio Perez (Force India) was 24 seconds adrift at the end as the Mercedes drivers were on another planet to the rest. Hamilton felt the battle was “on a knife-edge”, and while relations with Rosberg were cordial that night, the tension only rose as the season progressed, Hamilton securing his second world title in the double-points season finale in Abu Dhabi. But it was in Bahrain that the rivalry that has defined the V6 turbo hybrid era took off, and Mercedes executive director Paddy Lowe echoed the thoughts of the paddock afterwards. “A more exciting race I cannot remember in the last decade, in terms of wheel-to-wheel racing,” he said.

16 fearless predictions for ’16

It’s a new year, and seeing as though every other sports writer seems to be doing a look back at what was, I’ve gazed into the crystal ball (recently re-serviced, shod with brand-new Pirelli ultrasofts and running a TAG-Heuer engine) to come up with 16 things that will be (or might be, we can assess them this time next year) in F1 and MotoGP for 2016.

Feedback, good and bad, is always welcome. In no particular order, here goes.

1. Two wheels first. Jack Miller is going to finish in the top 10 in the world championship this year. He’ll be fitter than ever (and needs to be, apparently), the new bike is the best he’s ever ridden, and the new Michelins will marry nicely with his style. We’ll find out this year if his stay in the top flight will be a long one or not.

2. Kimi Raikkonen’s replacement at Ferrari in 2017 will be either Daniel Ricciardo, Romain Grosjean or Max Verstappen. Valtteri Bottas is out. I know who my money is on.

3. Mercedes will romp to both the F1 drivers’ and constructors’ titles again. Ferrari (well, Sebastian Vettel) will give them more of a fight, but as Christian Horner rightly asserts, their advantage is so huge that stability on the rules front means more of the same, sadly for the spectacle.

4. Casey Stoner will make a wildcard appearance on a Ducati this year. Maybe even two. Watching ‘Hitting The Apex’ over Christmas reminded me of his genius. I still can’t see him ever wanting a full-time comeback though. Imagine how much he’ll hate the attention that comes with him doing even one race if his arm gets twisted hard enough to line up again?

5. There’ll be plenty of talk about Mercedes splitting Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg for 2017, but it won’t happen. Rosberg is bright enough that he’ll stay where he is, drive a great car that he can win 3-4 races a season in, collect a decent salary and unofficially become his team’s number two while setting up his post-F1 career. It’s not a bad life. Filed under Webber, M.

6. McLaren will finish in the top five in the constructors’ championship next year and both drivers will finish on the podium at some stage. And not like this.

AlonsoButtonBrazil15podium

7. Much as I hate to say it (and he denies it), Valentino Rossi will never have a better chance than last year to win the MotoGP title again. For the sake of the sport, let’s hope he has another strong campaign in 2016.

8. Haas won’t embarrass themselves in their first F1 season. Wouldn’t surprise me at all if Grosjean is a regular points-scorer in the second half of the season.

9. For all the talk that 21 F1 races in 2016 is too many, we won’t have had 21 races by the end of the season.

10. The F1 champion will be Lewis Hamilton.

11. Hamilton’s third straight world title will cause me to reach for the mute button on Sky’s cheerleading/commentary more than once. Raise a glass at home every time he’s perceived to be “robbed” across the season.

12. The lead-up to the Australian Grand Prix will feature a photo/vision opportunity featuring bewildered local AFL players with equally bewildered international F1 drivers, with the attempted small talk some of the most awkward of the year. I hope nobody hurts themselves. This time.

13. More media will complain about having to go to Azerbaijan than any race in F1 history. Especially the ones who complain about going to most races anyway.

14. The MotoGP champion will be Marc Marquez, and I suspect it won’t be close.

15. For four drivers on the F1 grid, 2016 will be their final season. Not counting the Manor drivers in this, as there’s always someone with a bigger pile of money than the people with the big piles of money out there who drive for them, if anyone is paying attention.

16. I will make 17 fearless predictions for 2017 at this time next year (at least that’s guaranteed to happen).

10 observations: Mark Webber/Australian Story

In no particular order:

(1) How much do media types miss Mark’s straight down the line delivery, no BS and the trademark shrug of the shoulders he likes to do when contemplating an answer to a rubbish question? A lot.

(2) Speaking of missing people, Alan Webber in the F1 paddock was a beauty to have around. He was also the one person in the paddock with a handshake more ferocious than his son.

(3) Red Bull threw its weight behind a German driver it had piled loads of money into rather than a veteran who, in his own words, once said his pace had been “inconvenient” for team management. It’s not ‘fair’ or ‘just’ or any of those things, but as much as most Australians (me included) hated it at the time, it was understandable. This is not news.

(4) Mark Webber has a book coming out; this isn’t news either.

(5) Since when did the ABC do cross-promotions for new books anyway?

(6) Having no actual race vision is horrible for those making F1 shows who aren’t rights holders (believe me, I know), but Tom Cruise? Surely there was more footage around than that.

(7) Ann Neal remains as tough, fair and unwavering from the path set by her moral compass as she was when I first had dealings with her a million years ago, and anyone who enjoyed MW’s career should be forever grateful. As determined as they come.

(8) Anyone else find it strange seeing Rusty being interviewed rather than doing the interviewing? I was waiting for a Zeebox cross-promotion (sorry mate, had to get that in).

(9) Reliving Mark’s radio call after winning at the Nurburgring in ’09 was loads of fun. Journos aren’t supposed to lose all composure while at work, but I happily did that day.

(10) I’m still not buying the book.