Mark Webber has sought to play down his perceived status as the new favourite to clinch title glory in F1 2010 – insisting that whilst 'the position is healthy at the moment', he is conscious of how the campaign has had a tendency to 'ebb-and-flow', and as such is taking absolutely nothing for granted.
By dint of taking the chequered flag whilst their three chief rivals for the laurels failed to do so in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps last time out, winner Lewis Hamilton and runner-up Webber moved clear in the drivers' standings, with nearest challenger Sebastian Vettel now 28 points – or more than a race victory – adrift of his Red Bull Racing team-mate as the season speeds towards what promises to be a thrilling conclusion.
For his part, Webber is three markers behind Hamilton, but the British star is widely tipped to eke out that advantage in this weekend's Italian Grand Prix at Monza, a circuit around which the 2008 F1 World Champion's McLaren-Mercedes MP4-25 is expected to be in its element, and the New South Wales native's Red Bull RB6 – powered as it is by the rather more breathless Renault V8 – is not.
“This weekend could be very important,” the 34-year-old is quoted as having said by ITV-F1
, looking ahead to the first of the six remaining outings left in F1 2010. “We saw a few big people didn't have points [at Spa] and obviously every weekend gives out the same amount of points, but the closer you get to the end you run out of opportunities to get those points. Every weekend is important to all the drivers, we all know that.
“We need to see the kerbs [at Monza] – how different teams are going to approach those. Sometimes the form card before an event…for example, Ferrari in Turkey was like 'how did that happen?' They were not that quick, then on another track [they were]. Canada was pretty good to a point (for RBR), Spa we probably did better than we thought we would in some ways. In terms of damage limitation, I don't think we would pick this track as our favourite, but we showed at Spa we could be competitive. I'm looking forward to the weekend and seeing how it goes here.”
Indeed, Webber's performance in the changeable conditions of the Ardennes a fortnight ago was a superb example of damage limitation, and he is hopeful that he and Red Bull can again spring a surprise by featuring higher up the order than anticipated in Italy. By common consent, the Adrian Newey-penned RB6 remains the car to beat, and subsequent circuits should suit it infinitely better – leaving the man from Queanbeyan optimistic if not over-confident about his prospects for the final five 'flyaway' races in Singapore, Japan, Korea, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
“I don't consider myself the favourite,” he urged. “The position is healthy at the moment; I've got quite a few points – not as many as Lewis – but [I'm] in a pretty good position points-wise. That doesn't come with a day's work – it takes more to get in that position – and we're not in Abu Dhabi yet.
“It's ebbed-and-flowed a bit during the year, but mostly it's been the same sort of guys at the front. It's been a very rewarding season so far, and we hope to have some more highlights around the corner in terms of really good races for us – and that will only help towards trying to get the main goal.”
Should Vettel, Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso fail to bridge the gap to their two 'breakaway' adversaries at Monza, then it will increasingly look like boiling down to a two-horse duel for glory between Webber and Hamilton, and whilst the former is nine years older and has 86 more grand prix starts under his belt out of the pair, he does not have the experience of being in a title run-in unlike the current world championship leader. It will, he acknowledges, be a fascinating spectacle as the tension mounts.
“There's probably some situations that Lewis might not have experienced that I have, but there's certainly experiences that Lewis has that I haven't,” the six-time grand prix-winner mused. “There's a bit of uncharted waters on both sides. We know he's achieved some exceptional things in such a short period of time in F1, and that doesn't happen by mistake.
“We are looking forward to challenging at every single race we go to, but whether it will be decided by racing on-track – in Budapest he lost some points through reliability problems, and I could have that – we don't know.”