They might have embraced after finishing first and second in the Chinese Grand Prix last weekend, but the relationship between Red Bull Racing Formula 1 duo Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber may not be as warm as it would appear to outside observers.
Webber is the Red Bull incumbent, having raced for the Milton Keynes-based squad in the top flight since 2007, whilst Vettel may be new to the team this year, but the German – the sport's youngest-ever grand prix-winner following his stunning triumph for Scuderia Toro Rosso at Monza last season – has been backed by Red Bull for some time.
There was speculation prior to the start of the current F1 campaign – particularly in the light of Webber's leg and shoulder-breaking mountain-biking accident back in November – that Vettel would simply brush his more experienced team-mate aside, and during pre-season testing the Australian generally trailed the man from Heppenheim by around half a second, a gap Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko described as 'too much'.
Though Vettel has held the upper hand in qualifying on all three occasions to-date, however, Webber has rarely been too far behind, and when both had a clear track ahead of them in Shanghai, there was in truth little to choose between them. That, Marko suggests, is a product of Webber – despite boasting 95 more grand prix starts to his name – having begun to copy his 21-year-old team-mate's settings on the Renault-powered RB5, and the Austrian conceded that 'harmonic' is not the best word to describe the pair's relationship.
“No,” he replied in an interview with sportnet.at
. “Rather, I would call it healthy competition. In the beginning Mark resisted using Vettel's set-up – he would not accept it. Now he uses it because it is just faster.”
“Mark has proved that he is one of F1's best drivers,” countered team owner, billionaire energy drinks magnate Dietrich Mateschitz, speaking to Austrian newspaper the Salzburger Nachrichten
. “The combination is ideal. What we wanted was two drivers who are on the limit and can push each other, and that is so.”
Webber famously described Vettel as a 'kid with not enough experience, doing a good job then f***ing it all up' after the 21-year-old drove into the back of him under the safety car in the rain-lashed 2007 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji whilst they were in second and third positions respectively, ending both of their races on the spot. Vettel – in only his sixth F1 outing at the time – was visibly distraught about his error afterwards.
“I have been incredibly determined to get in the best condition I can and the best shape possible to overcome the injuries that I have had and give this youngster a hard time,” the New South Wales native has revealed. “So far it is working and we are pushing each other hard.”
Vettel now has two grand prix victories under his belt from just 29 starts, whilst Webber has yet to break his F1 duck in 124 appearances.