Mark Webber has insisted that there is no number one and number two driver situation at Red Bull Racing yet, despite acknowledging that Brawn GP rival Jenson Button is going to be very difficult to catch indeed in the 2009 F1 World Championship, and only 3.5 points separating the RBR duo approaching the halfway mark of the campaign.
Webber took the chequered flag as runner-up to team-mate Sebastian Vettel in the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last weekend – his fourth rostrum finish from eight outings to-date this year – and though the pair's pace was fairly similar throughout the race, the Australian's chances of bidding for his breakthrough F1 victory after 129 starts in the top flight had effectively been torpedoed by failing to secure a front row starting spot in qualifying when he found himself impeded by Kimi Raikkonen.
That meant he would spend the entire opening stint of the grand prix tucked up behind Rubens Barrichello – and by the time he had cleared the Brazilian during the first round of pit-stops, Vettel was more than 20 seconds up the road and it was as good as game over. The championship, though, Webber urges, is anything but.
“It was a great day for the team, there's no question about it,” the 32-year-old underlined afterwards. “The turning-point for me was in qualifying. If I'd been on the front row, where we should have been, maybe it would have been a different race – or would at least have made Sebastian work a little bit harder in the first stint. Obviously when I got stuck behind Rubens the race changed a lot, and I knew from then on second was the best I could get.
“I think [the championship] is still pretty much open, though – anything can happen. If one of has just one non-finish the other one will catapult, because there's only a few points between us. If Sebastian's 20 points down the road obviously it's a different ball game, but I'm there. Obviously he's had a run of results, but my results haven't been too bad either, so we'll see and take it to the next one.”
The 'next one' is the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring in just over a fortnight's time, when Webber and Vettel will bid to put a further dent in the runaway lead that Button and Brawn GP have established in the drivers' and constructors' standings respectively over the first eight races. Though there are 90 points still up for grabs, the British star's advantage is such that he can afford to finish second in each of the remaining nine grands prix and still be crowned at season's end.
That only serves to highlight the size of the task facing the ex-Honda F1 outfit's pursuers over the second half, and Webber knows that Red Bull has a mountain to climb. The New South Wales native is also well aware that Brawn's unusually off-colour British Grand Prix form was unlikely to have been anything more than just a weather-induced blip – and he stressed that hard work and persistent development are the only ways in which RBR might have a chance of closing the gap and turning the tables between now and Abu Dhabi at the beginning of November.
“It is too soon [to say],” the man from Queanbeyan replied, when asked if the Silverstone result had signified a turning of the tide away from Brawn and towards Red Bull. “We need to get a few races more under our belt. This track favoured us for many reasons I think – the conditions a little bit, and the layout of the circuit – and Jenson was not in the wall; he still got a few points. This race is history already, and we need to now focus on the Nürburgring. JB will be back – we know that – so we're still focussed on ourselves, and if we can do this in a few more races, obviously you guys might have something a little more interesting to report on...
“Jenson's in an incredible position, there's no question about it – he's in fantastic shape, going forward. Even if he's cruising and picks up a lot of results, not on the top step, it's going to be a long, long time for people to get that back because he's got a great benchmark to start from – but if his main competitors are consistent, two DNFs changes things obviously. Finishes are crucial for him, and he's been around long enough to know that.
“We are in a position to challenge at most grands prix now, and that is very rewarding for the whole team. Everyone is working incredibly hard. Obviously Brawn have had the jump from the off, but there have been a few venues where we have been a little bit closer here and there. We expected to be a bit closer in Turkey, to be honest, but there was no way anyone was going to beat Jenson there – he was on another level.
“The Nürburgring? It's very difficult to say at the moment. It's not that we're going to change our mentality going forward – we're doing everything we can to make the car as fast as possible for every venue we go to. We need to keep going on that path, and we need to bite into the back of their development if we can somehow. Obviously we need to do it soon because the more races we do, there are less to come – and the guy leading the championship keeps going away!”