Just days after officially renewing his contract with Red Bull Racing into 2012, Mark Webber has confessed that 'it would have been a mistake to stop racing' at the end of the current campaign – and he has vowed to continue taking the fight to pace-setting team-mate Sebastian Vettel until the title is no longer within his reach.
It was announced on the eve of last weekend's Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps – and appropriately, on Webber's 35th birthday – that the Australian will remain at Red Bull for a sixth consecutive season next year, and he promptly celebrated with a superb performance to recover from a torrid start to claim an excellent second place in the Ardennes.
Along the way, he pulled off a breath-taking, jaw-dropping overtaking manoeuvre on Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso going through the legendary Eau Rouge and proceeded to take the chequered flag less than four seconds in arrears of Vettel, with the race's fastest lap to his credit for good measure. Those who had said he was past it and didn't deserve his contract extension were swiftly forced to eat their words.
“Actually, it was a very difficult weekend,” Webber conceded, writing in his regular column for BBC Sport
. “It turned out we had really good pace, so it might have looked easy, but we went into the race with some pretty major concerns over our tyres after they blistered in qualifying – the rules say you can't change them until after the race has started.
“It's not unusual and it's not normally a massive issue, but in this case the blisters were on the inside shoulder of the tyre, where the tread meets the sidewall – and that's when it becomes a bit more critical. The problem was that no-one could give us a definitive answer as to how long the tyres would last, or what we could do to alleviate the problem.
“Seb and I have both had tyre failures in our careers, and you want to do everything you can to avoid it – but at the same time not be super-conservative. At a track like Spa, where it's high-speed and some of the run-off areas are a bit tight, it's a particularly unnerving situation. We spent a lot of time talking about what to do. For the team, our safety is paramount, so it was not something we took lightly.
“The most conservative choice is not to start the race; the next is to make changes to the cars and start from the pit-lane. If at any stage something becomes critical, that's when you don't take any short-cuts. You have to work out what to do, and perhaps even stop the cars. Thankfully, it didn't come to that.
“It's public knowledge that we were running the camber of our front wheels – the amount they lean away from vertical – on the upper limit of Pirelli's recommendations, but I know we're not the only team doing that. In any case, although we could have reduced the camber, it was not absolutely clear that would fix it. We push the cars to the limit, and this was just something that happened.
“After lots of calculations and discussions with the team and Pirelli, we chose to heavily compromise our strategy by pitting really early. A situation like this is extremely rare, and it was pretty intense. For us as drivers, we know it's part of the risk of the sport, and we can't always have all the answers before we go into the race. You've just got to get on with it, but it's obviously in your mind.