Mark Webber has insisted that he is not losing any sleep over the challenge he is likely to face from team-mate Sebastian Vettel during the F1 2010 World Championship campaign, arguing that there are 'a lot of quick drivers out there and some pretty good teams' – but acknowledging that continuity is a real feather in Red Bull Racing's cap.
On paper and on the basis of pre-season testing, there appears to be precious little to choose between the four anticipated title protagonists heading towards the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir this weekend, with Red Bull accompanied by Ferrari, McLaren-Mercedes and defending double world champions – in the erstwhile guise of Brawn GP – Mercedes Grand Prix.
Amongst that leading quartet, the internecine duels will be fascinating to watch, with countrymen and the most recent two title-winners Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button facing off at McLaren, giant-killer Felipe Massa returning from injury to take on double world champion Fernando Alonso at Ferrari, record-breaking F1 legend Michael Schumacher aiming to prove that he has lost none of his raw pace or flair up against young compatriot Nico Rosberg at Mercedes – and Webber paired with the highly-rated Vettel at RBR, with the German already holding the distinction of being the top flight's youngest-ever grand prix-winner. Focussing on just one rival, though, the Australian points out, would be dangerous and ill-advised in the extreme.
“A lot of people see my team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, as my biggest rival this year,” the 33-year-old wrote in British newspaper The Guardian
. “I have to say that there are a lot of quick drivers out there and some pretty good teams. Seb is going to be a quick driver, no question about it, but I'm not going to bed thinking about him; I'm going to bed thinking about myself and doing the best job I can, to get the best results I can, for myself.”
In 2009, Webber's best results were a brace of victories – his breakthrough F1 triumph in the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring mid-summer, followed by another in the Brazilian Grand Prix at Interlagos close to season's end – as well as six further rostrum finishes that earned the New South Wales native fourth spot in the final drivers' standings following a brief period during which he had threatened to challenge for the title.
He is well aware that more than that will be required if he is to successfully battle for the laurels up against as many as seven adversaries in 2010, but in an age of a number of key rule changes – the most notable being the ban on refuelling, which he suggests will make the initial stages of grands prix 'a bit of a slog' – and driver moves in practically every other team, Red Bull's general continuity, the man from Queanbeyan opines, could well pay dividends.
“There are many things to look forward to in this year's championship,” Webber stressed. “It's good for Red Bull Racing, because we've got a lot of continuity in the team. We're still with Renault engines and, driver-wise, we're very stable. Other teams have changed their driver pairings in some way or another, and these small things can make a difference when Formula 1 is as competitive as it is now.
“Seb and I have worked together, along with our engineers and the technicians from Renault, for some time and this will give us a good advantage. You have traits in engineers and drivers, and it's difficult to learn the system with such limited time. Some drivers have only a handful of days to get ready for the first race, and I think it's going to be interesting when they're under pressure. On race weekends you have to make big decisions at key moments and you don't want to be learning about each other too much at times like that. Continuity is going to be a major strength for us, particularly early on.
“Just by looking at the new cars this season, you can tell that the ban on refuelling is going to cause the biggest change. The cars are like limousines. They're a bit longer because of the need for a larger fuel tank. I'm not particularly bothered by how the cars look – although, saying that, [Red Bull chief technical officer] Adrian Newey has done another fantastic job and the RB6 looks the business – but more important is how the car feels with twice as much fuel on-board. Those early laps in the race are going to be a bit of a slog, but it will be the same for everyone.
“We've got to do a complete race with one tank of fuel, so we need to be looking after the tyres and making sure we understand them. Race strategies will be very different, and the pit-stops even faster than before. Previously each stop was determined by the time it took to get the fuel on-board, taking anything from five-to-eight or nine seconds. Now it's down to simply changing tyres, and the pit crews will be doing that in around three seconds, maybe faster once the pit-stops are refined.”