Red Bull Racing has found 'a few pointers' as to Mark Webber's curiously off-the-pace effort in the F1 2011 curtain-raising Australian Grand Prix just over a week ago – leaving the Aussie hopeful of 'getting some champagne' in the upcoming outing in Malaysia this weekend.
The home hero lapped the best part of a second-a-lap slower than RBR team-mate Sebastian Vettel from FP3 onwards in Melbourne, even finding himself pipped to the front row of the grid by feisty McLaren-Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton and going on to struggle woefully in the race, taking the chequered flag more than half-a-minute adrift of the defending F1 World Champion and down in fifth.
In what was beyond doubt the fastest car in the field, it was a perplexing performance, and if Webber has scarcely enjoyed much good fortune or been at his best around the streets of Albert Park, still nothing quite explained the uncharacteristically gaping deficit to Vettel.
Most unexpectedly of all, Helmut Marko – the energy drinks-backed outfit's controversial motorsport advisor, and a man hardly renowned as a Webber fan – was one of those to spring to the 34-year-old's defence, suggesting that 'Mark had some problems with the chassis' [see separate story – click here
]. That chassis has since been stripped down and closely examined for faults, but despite no significant flaws having been detected, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner is optimistic his driver will be far closer to the benchmark at Sepang.
“He and the team have been looking to understand [what happened] in the last week,” the Englishman told the BBC
. “We think we've found a few pointers, and I'm confident we'll see him back up at the front in Malaysia.”
“Malaysia is a sensational circuit,” added Webber, who set a commanding pole position and the fastest lap there last year, only to miss out on victory following a poor start. “It always provides an interesting race, especially with the weather. It's a great challenge for the driver, too, in terms of temperature, and we'll need to see how the tyres go there.
“We got a lot of information from the first race, and we expect our car to be good in Malaysia – I want to get some champagne and up onto the steps. China will be similar to Australia, as it's pretty cold when we go there. I think it will be an interesting race with the rear wing due to the long straights.”
Vettel, similarly, is eagerly anticipating a couple of grands prix that he describes as 'special', and is keen to extend the advantage that he currently holds off the back of his utterly dominant weekend Down Under.
“Malaysia is the first real track we go to, as Australia is a semi-street circuit,” the young German explained. “It's hot and it rains every day, but the question is when and how much? It will be a tricky one. Circuit-wise, you've got everything in there – Turn 14 requires you to brake the car while you're still turning into the corner, which makes it quite challenging.