Two years ago here at the Nürburgring, Mark Webber won his first grand prix. It was his 130th race, making him the most experienced man ever to take a maiden F1 victory.
The peripatetic nature of the German Grand Prix means this is the first time F1 has been back to the ‘ring, and the time when Mark was still striving to drag himself up to that top step seems a dim and distant memory.
It’s been a riotous two years (actually two years and two weeks) since then. Mark notched up a second win of 2009 in Brazil and then took four victories in 2010 that propelled him to the brink of a world championship. So far in the first half of 2011 he’s winless but insists it’s coming. The Nürburgring is one of his form tracks so it may well come here, and so despite another interlude locking horns with team management, it was a very chipper Aussie who sat down to face the press. Here’s an extract of what he had to say…
What’s your impression the Ferrari – was it a one-off [winning at Silverstone]?
No, it wasn’t a one-off. I think we saw it in Turkey where Fernando [Alonso] was with me for the whole grand prix and five or six seconds behind Seb [Vettel]. It was the same in Valencia where the three of us where very, very close. Along with Sebastian and myself he’s been consistent for the last four or five weeks.
When we saw in qualifying [for the British Grand Prix] that he was virtually with Sebastian and myself, after we had had a smooth run, we thought it would be interesting in the grand prix because normally the trend is for us to have a slightly better Saturday than Sunday.
We don’t know until Sundays are over who is going to be strong but Fernando is always there or thereabouts and Ferrari have improved a lot recently, so their pace is not a one-off and it’s incredibly unlikely that will be their last victory of the year.
'Fernando Alonso is always there or thereabouts'
Are you Seb’s closest challenger or is it Alonso?
Erm… I think it’s pretty even really. We have similar points, just a handful of difference, but the last few races I think the momentum has been pretty good for me in terms of my performance, which has got better. I was on pole for the last race, obviously I didn’t get the first stint I wanted, but I will address that as soon as possible and keep improving. Fernando is always there as well, so the three of us are pretty consistent. We need to make it as difficult as possible for Sebastian to run away with it!
Is there a psychological reason why you haven’t beaten Sebastian yet in 2011?
There’s lots of things that go into it, aren’t there? He’s off to an incredible start this year, and he’s beaten everybody this year, not just me. The last few races have been very, very close and going the right way. We know the tyres are very sensitive; I don’t know if it’s all about that though. I don’t feel too different in the car in the last few races, but my relative pace towards him has changed – whether it’s him going slower or me going faster I don’t know but things have changed a bit in the last few races – but maybe he destroys all of us again this weekend! Psychologically we know how sensitive the cars can be, you get a bit of momentum and off you go…
'We need to make it as difficult as possible for Sebastian to run away with it!'
Have you spoken to Christian Horner about what occurred towards the end of the British Grand Prix?
We had a chat straight after the race in the debrief. Christian put his view forward on how the situation built into the decision that he made, and I put my case forward too. We both thought we were making the right decision. Obviously he is in a position to always look to the team’s interests and I was in a situation where I was trying to improve my own position. So, we spoke about it, he guaranteed me it would have been the same the other way around: if Seb was closing on me he would still have shut the race down, so… yeah, it was over pretty quick.
What happens this weekend if there’s a similar situation?
We’re still free to race most of the time. I think that was an awkward one: it’s not often things like that happen in terms of the time of the race – but up until then we’ll be racing.
'I will make my decision soon'
Where will you be driving next year?
MW: I should still be driving in Formula One – not just in the road car to get the groceries! I’m relaxed at the moment: I’m talking to the team, in a good position and performing very, very well and the team is doing a good job. So no rush, but I’ll let you know when we make a decision.
Do you want to be [at Red Bull Racing] next year?
I’d say the answer to that is yes. Silverstone will have zero impact on the contract. We’ve been talking for a while now. I could have been faster with my decision but I haven’t been. I will make my decision soon.
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