Despite Red Bull Racing not having won a grand prix since the Valencia weekend back in June, Mark Webber insists that the team can expect to be in the mix at the front of the field as the F1 season resumes in Belgium on Friday.
Webber's team-mate Sebastian Vettel claimed victory on the Spanish street circuit but, despite holding a commanding championship lead, has had to watch as Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and McLaren team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button took the top step of the podium at Silverstone, the Nurburgring and Hungaroring respectively. Webber has yet to win at all in 2011, but has finished on the podium in four of the last five rounds and expects to be fighting with RBR's rivals at Spa.
"I expect this weekend to be the same – a tight, competitive fight between Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull Racing," the Australian confirmed as he returned from F1's summer break, "It was great to re-charge the batteries ready for the second part of the championship, and it was really good to spend some time with family and
friends, but three weeks is plenty - you certainly miss driving the car after that length of time.”
Vettel, too, is similarly champing at the bit, and is excited to be returning to action on a circuit he rates among the best in the world.
“Spa has everything that a driver dreams of – unbelievably fast corners and slow chicanes, and it can be full of surprises due to the weather," the German, who endured a messy 2010 visit to the Ardennes after colliding with Button early in the race, "The track follows the hills of the Ardennes and it can be raining one minute, then the sun can be shining the next. It's one of my absolute favourites.
"Eau Rouge and Blanchimont are real highlights – in dry conditions, they can be driven without any problems but, in the wet, it's a different story and you have to have dig deep to put your foot down. My favourite part of the track is the double-left Pouhon, as you put the car into sixth, take your foot off the accelerator for a moment
and then it's up to 280kph in the corner. The last chicane [where he collided with Button
] is difficult, too, as the car pulls you all over the place; you need all your concentration to keep it on the track.”
Webber agrees with his team-mate's assessment of the circuit, and is well aware of the impact the conditions can have.
“Spa is unquestionably one of the best tracks on the calendar, and it's such a great circuit to come back to after having some time away from the cockpit," he confirmed, "It's a real challenge for drivers and the teams because of the layout of the circuit and the unpredictable weather, and last year's grand prix was no exception, with
the weather playing a role. I thoroughly enjoyed the fight with Lewis and Robert [Kubica] for the podium, and I expect this weekend to be the same."