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.”