Current F1 2010 World Championship leader Mark Webber is 'without any doubt one of the top four drivers in the world' and 'underestimated' by the majority of the paddock, contends the man who gave the Australian his grand prix debut eight years ago, Giancarlo Minardi – adding that Red Bull Racing's decision to let its two drivers continue to duel it out is a mistaken one.
With just three races now to go in what has been a nail-bitingly unpredictable and topsy-turvy campaign – beginning with this weekend's inaugural Korean Grand Prix, the greatest step into the unknown of all – Webber continues to lead the way, holding a 14-point margin in the title standings over his pursuing team-mate Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari's double F1 World Champion Fernando Alonso.
Whilst McLaren-Mercedes duo Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button remain in the chase, too, barring a significant fightback for the pair in Korea, it looks likely to boil down now to a three-way Red Bull/Alonso tussle – and it is arguably the Spaniard and Vettel who are the men in-form, with the former having triumphed in both Italy and Singapore and the latter dominating proceedings last time out in the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka.
It is Webber's consistency that has maintained the 34-year-old's advantage atop the points table, but should either of his two closest pursuers win in Korea and
Brazil, then that lead will be immediately eradicated to literally nothing. As the man who brought both Alonso and Webber into F1, former team owner Minardi argues RBR should now throw its weight of support behind the New South Wales native in recognition of his performances this year that make him 'deserving' of the crown.
“Mark Webber has always been a very fast driver in all conditions,” stated the 63-year-old Italian. “In recent years, he has worked hard to shed those excess pounds without compromising his muscle mass. He is a complete driver who had the misfortune to arrive in the world championship at an advanced age compared to the average.
“He is without any doubt one of the top four drivers in the world, and I think he has been underestimated by the whole paddock. He is a driver who started out with me at Minardi, and then each time was with teams that did not have the budget needed to fight for the top positions.
“The [cycling] incident at the end of 2008, which occurred while he was preparing the new season, affected him for all of 2009, leaving him in the shadow of his new team-mate. This year, though, having fully recovered, he is putting Sebastian Vettel in serious difficulty.
“I think he deserves to win the title, although he still needs to take the final leap. Precisely for this reason, I don't agree very much with the strategy implemented by Red Bull, leaving their two drivers free [to fight]. At Suzuka, Webber lost seven points over Alonso, whereas now his points lead could be 21 – almost [the value of] a grand prix.”