23 February 2011
Webber plays down benefits of first race delay
Mark Webber has played down suggestions that the cancellation of the Bahrain GP will benefit Red Bull's F1 rivals.
Mark Webber doesn't believe that the added development time afforded to the F1 teams by the cancellation of next month's season-opener in Bahrain will have a dramatic effect on how the championship plays out, claiming that the same names will be at the front of the field regardless.
Speaking in the wake of this week's decision to suspend the Bahrain race in light of the civil unrest sweeping the country, Red Bull driver Webber insisted that each team would benefit equally from the delay, reinforcing the order in which they are likely to start the season rather than shuffling the pack. The Australian was particularly keen to play down suggestions that the added time would benefit McLaren which, having been a thorn in Red Bull's side in 2010, appears to be struggling to combine pace and reliability with its new MP4-26 in pre-season testing.
"I don't think the extra two or three weeks will make a huge difference to the championship," Webber told the BBC, "It might give someone or some teams a bit more time to get their house in order for the first race, but the guys that are in good shape are polishing and sharpening their knives pretty well. Everyone can benefit from a bit more time, so I'm not going to read too much into that. The freight will still have to leave for Melbourne pretty early - I suppose you've got another ten days' headroom, but it is swings and roundabouts."
As well as seeing both Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button hindered by reliability worries and a lack of spare parts during the team's two tests with the MP4-26 in Jerez and Barcelona, McLaren is understood to be working on a new exhaust system that mirrors that of the Lotus Renault team which set the pace in the opening group session in Valencia. With the Enstone team also running into problems in recent outings, however, Red Bull and Ferrari appear to have retained their front-running positions from 2010, although Webber refuses to accept that he and world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel will automatically be at the front of the pack when the season gets underway in his Australian homeland.
"We are burying ourselves in there - we've still got work to do," he insisted, "It would be nice to go racing as soon as possible to see where we are."
BBC F1 expert Martin Brundle shares Webber's views on the extra preparation time, although he admits that some of the lesser lights may benefit from the pre-season extension and the rescheduling of the planned Bahrain test to Barcelona's Circuit de Catalunya.
"It will help some teams that were struggling to make fast and reliable cars," the Briton, who is promoted to lead commentator this season, acknowledged, "It will play into their hands."
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