Felipe Massa has predicted that having finally now broken his F1 duck with a flawless triumph in the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring just under a fortnight ago, Mark Webber will become a 'stronger' and 'more mature' driver – and will go on to mount the top step of the rostrum again and again.
After 130 starts at the highest level, Webber at last got a taste of victory champagne in F1 when he overcame a drive-through penalty for an early touch with Brawn GP rival Rubens Barrichello away from the start line to battle back and blitz the opposition around the Eifel Mountains circuit – comfortably seeing off the challenge of highly-rated young Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel on the German's home soil, and in so doing staking his claim to being a genuine title contender in 2009.
Massa, by contrast, had to wait just 66 races before grabbing his breakthrough victory in the 2006 Turkish Grand Prix, seeing off the threat of Ferrari team-mate Michael Schumacher throughout the weekend. He has since gone on to make the Istanbul Park Circuit something of his personal stomping ground, and in the intervening 48 outings has prevailed on ten further occasions – now, the Brazilian suggests, Webber could do the same.
“After my first win, it made me a lot stronger, a lot more mature and more wins came almost straightaway,” revealed the 2008 world championship runner-up. “Something definitely changed for me and you feel a lot better, knowing you can win, especially if it is a deserved win, not a victory taken because someone in front of you has retired. Starting from pole and winning a race makes you believe you are big driver.”
Webber will be aiming to make it back-to-back successes immediately in Budapest this weekend, and he has got his bid off to an encouraging start, lapping fourth-quickest in both FP1 and FP2, backed up by Vettel in sixth spot on the end-of-day timesheets, just under two tenths of a second in arrears. That notwithstanding, both drivers expect the competition – like the weather – to be somewhat hotter than it was in recent outings in Britain and Germany.
“We've had a good day,” underlined the New South Wales native, three tenths off the outright pace at the close of play. “It's normal for Budapest to be pretty warm, so we've experienced the normal characteristics and the problems that Budapest throws at the engineers and drivers.
“The car seems to be going okay at the moment – we'll see what fuel loads people are running as usual tomorrow and on Sunday. We've got a bit of work to do with our car but, in general, it's been a reasonably positive day, with the exception of stopping towards the end of the second session with a hydraulic problem.”
“A hot, hot Friday,” added Vettel. “Obviously the sun is out in Hungary, which makes it hot in the car, but it's okay. Overall, I think we are still struggling to find the balance – I'm not yet 100 per cent happy, so we need to look into it carefully overnight to see where we are.
“Hopefully we can make a step forward tomorrow, and then it will be all about qualifying as usual. I think it's much closer here than at previous races – other teams are very competitive, so we will see!”