Webber backed by Horner for 2013 title run
3 February 2013
January wasn't the best of starts to a brand new season in F1 for Mark Webber, when he found himself under attack from an unexpected source - Red Bull's prestigious motorsports advisor, Dr Helmet Marko.
Marko had told Red Bull's in-house magazine that while Webber could win a couple of races, he didn't have it in him to deal with the pressure involved in sustaining that level over a while season to win a title. "There is no reason to think the balance of power will change," Marko had said, pointing out that Sebastian Vettel had beaten Webber in every season they'd raced together as team mates at Red Bull.
Webber brushed off the remarks at the time, saying that Marko simply had his own personal agenda that did not give any credit to the Australian. However, the criticism had clearly stung and was inevitably the subject of questions directed toward Webber at the RB9 launch media launch on Sunday at Milton Keynes.
Crucially Webber received very public backing from his boss, Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner, who said the team would never have signed a fresh one-year contract extension with the driver if they didn't have complete confidence in his abilities.
"Helmut can be outspoken at times, and some of his comments that reflected his opinion, and sometimes these things can be misinterpreted," Horner told the press at the weekend.
"If we weren't happy with Mark we would have never signed him to be with the team for this year," he added. "We are very happy with Mark."
But is Webber really in with a realistic shot of finally beating his young team mate and clinching a world championship to call his own? Certainly the driver himself reckons so.
"I think I can have a crack at the championship again this year, as I have done in previous seasons," he insisted. "That's my goal, and that's what I'm getting up each day and thinking about and working hard with the team on doing."
Inevitably, sooner or later there will come a point in the season where one of the Red Bull drivers is ahead of the other and the question of team orders will arise. Webber has been on the losing end of that deal in recent years, so can he realistically hope to be treated differently in 2013?
"We give both drivers equal opportunity and it's ultimately down to what they do on the circuit," insisted Horner. "In the team that is very much the opinion, the approach and we will continue to do that.
"For us it doesn't matter which driver wins as long as it's a driver in one of these cars," continued the team boss. "Both of these guys are here because we believe they are the best, we want them in the team and obviously the team do the very best we can to support both drivers."
Weber doubtless wouldn't have re-=signed with the team for another season if he didn't completely believe that.
"They know that I need 100 per cent support," he said. "You cannot fight for world Championships with 90, you need 100, and that's what we're going in to 2013 with this in place and I'm comfortable with that."
Webber can rely on having longevity and experience on his side - and not just in the sport, but continuing at the same team.
“The fact that this is my seventh season with the team is a massive advantage,” Webber insisted. "I couldn't have envisaged it when I joined and it's hard to believe that you could be with the same F1 team for seven years, as continuity is not always easy to achieve in this sport."
That means the Webber/Vettel driver pairing is entering its fifth consecutive season, the longest-established driver line-up of any F1 team on the 2013 grid. But while continuity is all very well, the team have to make sure that they keep the energy and motivation levels up and not get complacent and stagnate.
“I think the way we keep people excited and motivated here is important,” Webber agreed. “It's quite a small operation, but obviously we're big on ambition and desire and that makes us perform very well.
"I've really enjoyed the years I've had here so far and I can't wait to get going this season," he added.
And it won't be long before he's back in the race seat: along with the other teams in the F1 paddock, Red Bull is heading down to the Circuit de Jerez for the first four-day pre-season test session of 2013 that starts on Tuesday.
So far there's only one RB9 ready to take out on the track, so Webber and Vettel will have to share driving duties. The Australian will have the first crack at it and take the honours on Tuesday and Wednesday, before handing the car over to Vettel for Thursday and Friday.
"I cannot wait to get in the car," said Webber. "I've been strapped to Adrian's cars for quite a while now, and I can trust them, so next week will be about gathering data."