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.
“Looking to China, we have good memories from there two years ago. We struggled to repeat it last year, but we will go back there and try again. I like the track and I've got some good points there in the past. Generally, the overseas races are special, as you go there a few days earlier than usual, so you get to see different things. I enjoy that and am looking forward to it.”
Red Bull Racing will make a decision regarding whether or not to run KERS in the race at Sepang after evaluating the results from Friday practice – but McLaren's Jenson Button reckons a lack of reliability may merely have been a convenient smokescreen for the real reason that the Milton Keynes-based squad elected to go without it in Melbourne.
“I don't think they have a good system,” bluntly expressed the 2009 F1 World Champion, speaking to AFP
. “We gain between three-and-a-half and five tenths from our KERS but I think Red Bull only gain one-and-a-half, and that's why they did not bother with it and the extra weight.”