MAY 25, 2011
Analysis: Can Webber take strength from Spain?
Despite a disappointing Spanish GP that had its roots in a mediocre start, Mark Webber says that his Barcelona pole position has given him heart. The quest is to get on top of Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel as F1 heads into a Monaco race that Webber dominated last year.
"The biggest thing is the black things on the corner of the car," Webber said. "They've played a pretty pivotal role in how the gaps have unfolded this year and although I wasn't particularly slow in Shanghai or Malaysia, we didn't have the smoothest of weekends. Turkey was a clean weekend and I finished 10s or so behind Seb -- so getting there. He's got the bar at a high level and so, for me, it's rewarding when you can get close and then try to get ahead of that.
"That's what it's all about for me at the moment but I'm not just turning up to race Sebastian. As we've seen in the last few races, I had a really good fight with Fernando in Turkey, Seb got pushed over the line by Lewis in the last grand prix, and so it has ebbed and flowed a bit between all of us, with the exception of Sebastian.
"We've put a lot of work into the tyres and me getting more out of them, but it might take three bottles of red wine for me to explain how complex it all is. But that's the way it is and I've just got to work hard at understanding those new challenges. Spain was a timely weekend for me to get on top of a few things and hopefully I can continue that."
Webber, who took pole position at Monaco last year and dominated the race despite his lead being repeatedly wiped out by four Safety Car deployments, admitted that Monte Carlo is a special race.
"Any GP win is special, particularly if it's one that you really deserve and don't get through attrition. When you have an afternoon like that and win a grand prix it's very rewarding, but when you manage to do it around here it's a slightly different level again. It's not just a race against your competitors, it's a race against the track as well. It's a huge highlight to have won here.
"We know that this place changes quite a bit over the weekend and it's not a normal grand prix as such. As we saw with Fernando last year (Alonso crashed in FP3 on Saturday morning and missed qualifying), one small little error and your weekend completely changes. At some other venues you can get away with it, like we saw with Seb in Turkey, but here it's not always possible."
Webber thinks that the Pirelli tyre situation makes this year's Monaco race more open than ever. "Absolutely," he says. "We've got a lot of question marks over the tyres and Safety Cars here can be land mines. They might help you, they might not."
Webber's thoughts on Red Bull's qualifying pace relative to its race speed appear to pour cold water on suggestions that they are getting more out of hot blown diffusers than the opposition.
"It's been like that for the last few years," he said. "We saw it in Budapest last year, Barcelona and Silverstone the last few years, and even in my race win in the UK last year, Lewis was three tenths slower in the race compared to six or seven in qualifying. We have a pretty good understanding of why. We want to keep Saturday and improve Sunday."
Webber is either unwilling or unable to put his finger on the source of his Monaco advantage last year.
"We've just had a look at some stuff from last year in the meetings we've just had," he said, "but what blew me away last year was actually that first stint when we just opened the race up completely. I virtually got myself a free pit stop in that first stint, which was great. Sometimes that just happens and, actually, it's happened more here than anywhere.
"Even in the F3000 race here (which Webber won in 2001) you're looking at the pit board thinking, 'this is good, this is really great, because they don't seem to be able to respond.' It doesn't happen often but it's nice when it does! When you know you've been able to build that kind of buffer and that generally you can call upon the pace at any point in the race, you are very relaxed at the restarts.
"I think last year's advantage was a little bit everywhere. There are fine margins here and I hope I drive well again this weekend and get the best out of myself, but you never know..."