Whilst acknowledging that he and Red Bull Racing have endured something of a dry patch in recent outings, Mark Webber is adamant that the battle for the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship is still very much on – and for inspiration, he points to the example of Kimi Raikkonen, who two years ago fought back from an only marginally smaller deficit with far fewer races left to close the gap to clinch the coveted crown.
After finishing as runner-up in both Turkey and Britain, finally breaking his F1 duck at the Nürburgring and adding to that with a further rostrum finish in Budapest, since the mid-summer break Webber has failed to score at all. An off-colour and off-the-pace ninth in Valencia was matched by the same result at Spa-Francorchamps a week later, though on the latter occasion the Australian had looked set to score until a dangerous early release from his first pit-stop saw him meted out a drive-through penalty that scuppered his chances.
That means that whilst title rivals Sebastian Vettel, Jenson Button and Rubens Barrichello have notched up respectively six, twelve and two points from the last two encounters, Webber has tallied none – dropping the New South Wales native to fourth in the drivers' standings, 20.5 points adrift of the lead with only 50 remaining up for grabs. Nonetheless, he insists that he is far from out of contention.
“Since we've come back after the break it's been a bit dry for us,” he agreed. “The one-twos [at Silverstone and the Nürburgring] were dominating results, and we capitalised when the car was very good as a team on those weekends. We have got to focus on ourselves and do the best job we can. We can't control Brawn's performances or Force India's or whoever's turned it up this week, you know; it's up to us to get the most out of our package and make sure that we do the business in each session and are there for Q3 and in a good position. That's all we did in the past and that's what we have to do in the future.
“It's not the case of 'we have to try harder'. We're trying very, very hard – it's just that we haven't been as strong as we were at Silverstone, the Nürburgring or places like that – but we're in there. Mathematically [the championship] is certainly possible. We saw a few years ago with Kimi how he came back and won it by a point from a long way out, so anything really can happen.
“We've seen a very mixed field, especially in the last few races, so it's certainly not that difficult to understand what's got to happen. We need to score more points than Jenson, and if Rubens gets in the mix that makes it even harder. It'll go on for a while yet. The next two races will be…well even this one, Monza, will be again another big weekend in terms of which way it will swing. It's very interesting, and we're optimistic we can make JB feel the pressure as long as possible.”
Though he adds that he is convinced Button will not remain off the podium for long – the world championship leader has not appeared up on the rostrum now since Istanbul at the end of his early-season winning streak – Webber is equally confident that the Italian Grand Prix will enable Red Bull to begin making inroads once more into the Briton's advantage that has remained more-or-less static of late, despite his lacklustre showings. What's more, encouragingly for RBR it was an Adrian Newey-designed car that dominated at Monza this time last year – in the hands of Webber's current team-mate Vettel.
“From Silverstone onwards, [Brawn GP] have had a pretty mixed period if you look at the Nürburgring, Spa, Silverstone and even Valencia where Rubens had a fantastic result,” contended the 33-year-old. “I think JB knows what he's got to do, and I'll be very, very surprised if he doesn't score another podium before the year's out. He had six wins on the bounce at the start of the year and to not manage to get a podium or two to finish the year out will be certainly a huge change in his form, but I think he'll be back getting some podiums shortly.
“Monza is another good challenge. My first reaction is obviously it's very fast. It's a unique circuit, one that requires the cars to have very different downforce levels – so the cars move around a lot more in the faster corners. Generally it's a track where there's a lot of full throttle, a lot of load on the engine and you also need to get amongst the kerbs there. I think you just have to sometimes watch your elbows, though – in the past I've had a little bit of a problem with my left elbow round there when you're jumping the kerbs, but physically it's one of the easiest tracks on the calendar. It's always a good atmosphere too, and it will be good to leave Europe with a good result.