Lewis Hamilton's blunt dismissal of Red Bull as merely 'a drinks company' earlier this week has come back to haunt him on the eve of the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne, with home hero Mark Webber retorting that whilst the defending double world champions may not have the heritage in the sport of some of their competitors, they are nonetheless fiercely serious about winning.
Hamilton's caustic remark that Red Bull Racing lack 'status' in F1 [see separate story – click here
] was likely an attempt more than anything else to bat away the flurry of recent rumours that the British star could find himself Milton Keynes-bound should he endure a nightmare of a campaign with current employer McLaren-Mercedes in 2011, following a torrid winter testing programme with the new MP4-26 – but it has clearly hit a nerve with Webber.
“Well, we're just a drinks company in the end!” quipped the plain-speaking Aussie in Thursday's press conference when asked about RBR's expectations for the season ahead, before adding: “The team has again set the bar high this year. Of course, we're looking for championships – both of them would be nice. As we saw last year, when it goes to the end it can go either way, but we want to be there at the end. That's the goal for the team.
“We had a pretty good season last year, so I hope we can build on that, but we've some sensational rivals. The red guys (Ferrari) are a phenomenal team, have a phenomenal history, and that's what gives us our great rewards – to compete against those sorts of guys.
“We've had a pretty smooth winter. It's easy to have niggles when it's a completely new concept and with the new regulations, but the team have done a good job to get on top of those. Both myself and the team have put in a lot of effort – and of course also Seb [Vettel – team-mate] – to make the most of the limited testing days that we had. In general it went pretty well, and we'll find out in the next few weeks where we are performance-wise.
“The Renault and Mercedes are fast; they are not hanging around – they've done a good job over the winter. Renault are always there or thereabouts; I think they'll be very quick this year, but whether they can put a championship together remains to be seen. Mercedes have had a good finish to the winter testing, and they're going to be winning some races for sure this year. They've shown good reliability, so there's no reason [why] they shouldn't challenge for the title along with Ferrari and McLaren.”
Should Red Bull clinch the crown for a second consecutive season, however, it would go some way to establishing the team as a credible force in the sport – and thereby disproving Hamilton's criticism. Webber is bidding to lift the laurels for himself this year after agonisingly missing out to Vettel in the 2010 Abu Dhabi finale back in November – and a bright start this weekend in a race that has rarely shone upon him would aid that cause immensely.
One aspect that all
of the drivers will need to swiftly get used to, meanwhile, is what has been mooted as the F1 byword for 2011 – multi-tasking. Webber is not convinced that the plethora of additional buttons on the steering wheel will produce quite the desired effect.
“I think for racing it's not too bad,” the 34-year-old reflected. “We have to see how the [moveable rear] wing will go in terms of overtaking for the show. I'm a little bit surprised that we have everything at our disposal for qualifying, because it doesn't really add to the show and doesn't add to overtaking because obviously it's not that type of session. For us to have to get used to the overload, it's an added bit of tummy-tapping head-rubbing sort of multi-tasking, which is a fraction unnecessary for qualifying.
“For the race, we need to see how it's going to work because we're going to use it a lot less. In qualifying we're using it every single time, so it's pretty busy – but I'm up for a challenge!”