Although their 2013 challenger was still days away, Red Bull managed to grab a pie of news in January 2013, as Red Bull’s Sporting director Helmut Marko was vocal against Mark Webber. Some said that Marko has deliberately started his mind games ahead of the season by targeting Webber. Critics are pointing out that Marko’s statements on Mark Webber was being said to ensure that Webber is rightly motivated ahead of the season, and also to ensure that Webber charges for his maiden World Championship. Rest of the people are stressing on the fact that Webber being treated as a Number 2 driver should quit the Austrian team for being overlooked year after year. At the launch of RB9 however, Christian Horner has defended his driver, while Mark Webber himself had stated that he wasn’t on the favorite side of Marko.
It’s really strange to point a finger at someone in this case. Dr. Helmut Marko is one of the highly reputed persons in the sport but has been constantly criticized for favoring Sebastian Vettel. Although initially when Vettel stepped into the Austrian Team, Red Bull claimed that Vettel and Webber will share equal driver status, it became clear that Vettel was the Number uno while Webber was the second fiddle. This exactly isn’t the problem since most teams do the same, but some are stressing that Webber isn’t given his due chances to challenge for the title.
"It seems to me that Webber has on average two races per year where he is unbeatable, but he can't maintain this form throughout the year, And as soon as his prospects start to look good in the world championship, he has a little trouble with the pressure that this creates. In comparison with Seb's rising form, it seems to me that Mark's form somehow flattens out. Then, if some technical mishap occurs, like with the alternator for example, he falls relatively easily into a downward spiral." - Dr. Helmut Marko
It’s been a straight fight between the boss, and his driver. Marko’s comments have to be accepted despite the resistance from Webber. If one can carefully analyze what Webber has gone through his career, it has always been the hits and misses. He has been regarded so high especially during his stints at Minardi and Jaguar. When Webber joined Williams, Expectations grew even higher, with many predicting his first win, while then technical director of Williams, Sam Michael had indicated that Webber will win the World Championship with the legendary team. But his two year stint at Williams was more of a frustration, and the lack of results meant that Webber’s reputation was diminished, and was on a downfall which was agreed by Webber himself during his season review towards the end of 2005. Webber’s move to Red Bull happened for the start of 2007 season, and it’s long believed that the Austrian team had to offer Webber a contract which had come with the freebies in the form of Renault Engine. There was lots of hype for Webber, as he started his career with Red Bull on a strong note by outpacing his much experienced teammate David Coulthard, and the season progressed in similar fashion where the two drivers of this Austrian team managed to have a solid battle among themselves, but unfortunately for these drivers, the results tally didn’t add any feathers to their cap due to their car’s reliability. Towards the end of 2007 season, Webber was regarded as the unluckiest man on the grid and one of the few to have a long starts without a win. 2008 season proved to be a lukewarm season for him as he constantly struggled due to the lack of pace from RB4, but things improved for the 2009 season where he had his first win of his career at Nürburgring and then he followed up with a third at Hungary which eventually raised his position to second in the drivers standings, but then having suffered a serious of poor results, he ended the year at distant fourth in the drivers standings. 2010 season was a major highlight of his career, as he fought for the championship till the last race of the season, and was the prime focus for the strategies set by Ferrari for their driver Alonso, who along with Vettel were the contenders for the championship. It was Vettel who remained the darkhorse for the title for much of the season, and he had the last laugh by clinching the title. 2011 wasn’t the best year for Webber, as he was outperformed by his teammate all through the season except for Brazil, where Webber took his only win of the season. That season started off on a poor note for Webber as he suffered a chassis failure in the first race, and then suffered a serious of KERS related issues. 2012 was again a series of hits and misses, as having been one of the main contenders for the title before the summer break, his fortunes went down south as he was suffering from reliability issues with his car and also slow starts ruining his fortunes. Marko states that Webber’s misfortunes at the top has an cause an effect on his form.
“No driver remains unaffected by this, because the tension is palpable. In 2010, it was particularly extreme. Webber headed into the final race with better chances than Vettel, and he probably carried the disappointment of his defeat into the 2011 season, which is so easy to understand.”
There has been some kind of pattern with his performance, as Marko points out that Webber goes into top form at some point in the season, but then loses it out due to one or other issue. He is now heading into the sunset and there is a high probability of him, retiring at some point in the next couple of years, and he really has to head home, with a championship in his bag. When asked about his retirement plans, Webber quietly points out that it would be one difficult moment of his life.
“I haven’t been there yet but it is going to be a very difficult moment, no question about it.
Webber is one of the crafty individuals on the grid, Irrespective of whether he wins the championship or not in the future, Webber will be regarded as the unluckiest driver on the grid.
But then the question is all about his capabilities as a driver for the Championship. The major problem that Webber needs to sort out is the slow starts that he often gets, especially when he is at the front of the grid. While not many drivers can have a luxury to get the top 3 rows, Webber is someone who often wastes his opportunities. If people are pointing out that this issue of slow starts, is due to Red Bull’s poor reliability, then we suggest them to look at his past records as well. 2004 Malaysian Grand Prix was one of the major highlights for Webber, he splitted the dominant Ferrari’s at the top, and was looking good for a solid race, but then a slow start prevented his strong run, and he eventually retired from the race. Lots of people point out that, Webber is one of the most matured drivers of the current generation, but over the years, it has to be understood that Webber never actually recovers from a poor result. If there was a major highlight in a particular year in the form of podiums if not wins, and if it is followed by a couple of poor results, Webber never seems to get over that rough patch and spends the rest of season on a bad note. This case gets much worse, if he has been challenging for the title as evident from the 2010 season as once the season ended, Webber took one full season to recover from the loss. His stint at Williams is a prime example of his inability to cope up with poor results. The first half of 2005 season saw him battle towards the Top 5, while after a couple of poor results, his form dipped in the second half of the season. 2006 was even worse, as Webber and Williams struggled to finish the race. Webber in that particular season, looked desperate and frustrated.
Not many drivers can cope up with the prospect of his teammate having a significant edge on the car. We have seen over the years that, when a driver is beaten by his teammate, his form comparatively dips down. There has been many instances from the yesteryears, and we can also refer to the current era as well. Michael Schumacher who made a disastrous comeback to Mercedes can arguably be one such example. Many have said that the Michael Schumacher who drove for Mercedes wasn’t exactly the same Schumacher from the Ferrari days. There are couple of reasons for the loss of form from the seven time world champion, but one of the prime reasons, is that his team-mate Rosberg had a significant edge over Schumacher which wasn’t the case when Schumi was in his prime. Schumacher used to outshine his teammates on many occasions. Marko again points out that Vettel’s dominance in the sport, is having an huge effect on Webber, and the necessity to outperform Vettel, is causing an extra pressure on the Aussie Grit.
"Something that I think is also very important is that for much of his career, Mark was never in a top team, but he was always regarded as a high flyer if he only could get into the right team. Then Red Bull puts him in a car - a possible winner - and suddenly along comes this young kid and he snatches the booty from under Mark's nose. Psychologically it's not easy, of course; this would gnaw away at anyone's confidence. It's more than understandable." - Dr. Helmut Marko
This particular fact was also stressed by Horner, when he was asked to analyze the performance loss of Webber in the second half of 2012 season. He mentions that, Vettel got the best out of the major update that they had in Singapore, and also stressed on where the young German has outshone the Veteran.
“Certainly Seb was able to get more out of the upgrade then Mark was, Some of that is style, some of that is lines used, but the same thing applies as the car develops - one driver will sometimes get more out of it than the other. It did seem to suit his requirements whereas Mark never seemed quite as comfortable. But he still had Korea pole, a front row in Abu Dhabi, and outqualified Seb in Brazil. It was mainly in the races where Seb was able to exploit the most out of the car. Certainly at the beginning of the year with the pre-Melbourne upgrade Sebastian was not at all comfortable, but he was still scoring strongly. So when we did get the performance in the car he was able to capitalise on that. It's obviously tough for Mark - he is a world class driver but he is up against the best in the world. It is hard for any driver to accept that."
It’s hard to admit, but it does look true. Webber may not be a the main man for the Red Bull’s Sporting director, but his statements are true. Yes, We had Horner defending Webber, and Webber himself retaliated to the statements made by Marko in best possible way, but for someone who is past his prime, and for someone who is sticking with Red Bull to ensure that he has an outside chance at the championship, Webber is the Number 2 driver at this Austrian team unless he has the psychological motivation, and the desire to work on his weakness like the slow starts. Yes, We can talk of reliability issues with the car among other things, but again Webber has let go of the championship, and the same can happen in 2013, if he doesn’t work on his weakness.
“Mark knows what we expect of him," Marko told the German newspaper Sport Bild. "For four years, Vettel and Webber have driven together in our team. Sebastian was runner-up once and champion three times. The statistic speaks for itself. There is no reason to think the balance of power will change." - Dr. Helmut Marko