Sunday, 29 January 2012

Mark Webber: Can he challenge Vettel?

Webber took a beating from Vettel in 2011, but can he challenge his team mate in 2012?

Mark Webber came oh-so-close to winning the World Championship in 2012, yet was blown to shreds last year by his team mate. He never looked anywhere near Vettel, and his only win came when Vettel had a gearbox problem.

Webber brilliantly won in Monaco, 2010
So what can he do to stop himself from facing another mauling at the hands of his team mate in 2012? Well, he can try and find his 2010 form again. He took five pole positions and four race wins, with a gorgeous win at Monaco, leading every lap. He was a title contender right up until the end, despite doing the last four races with a broken shoulder. And those last four races were when his beating from Vettel began. Vettel won three of the last four races, while Webber was 2nd in Japan, crashed out in Korea, 2nd in Brazil, and a distant 8th in Abu Dhabi. So this meant he missed out on the World Championship, and deep down, I'm sure he knows that he should've won that one. So 2010 may have been the one that got away, but his driving was excellent, and much better than any other season, so he needs to find that form again.

Webber kept losing places at the start
For some reason though, he couldn't find that form in 2011. He won just one race, and even that was at the end of the season, when team mate Vettel suffered a gearbox failure as the Australian won. Webber was never really near his team mate, and though he took three pole positions (Spain, Britain, Germany) his qualifying pace was never near Vettel's. The thing he really needs to improve on is the starts. Webber lost places in the start at Malaysia, China, Turkey, Spain, Monaco, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Singapore, India and Abu Dhabi last season. It was very strange how he seemed to always lose positions at the start, and often it set the tone for the rest of his race. Webber knows he must improve them next season, perhaps adopt Fernando Alonso's tactic of using all KERS at the start to get an advantage. The first lap is crucial, and Mark Webber knows that the first lap was his worst lap - that needs to change in 2012.

It's not all bad for Webber. His overtaking in 2011 was brilliant, with three nominations in my overtake of the year poll, including that breathtaking pass on Fernando Alonso up Eau Rouge. Not only this, but he drove superbly in China, starting 18th but finishing on the podium in 3rd place with a last lap overtake on Jenson Button. In Webber's defence, he suffered from some controversial decisions within the team in 2011, most notably in Britain (when he was told not to overtake Vettel for 2nd despite being faster) and Korea (where his strategy was changed.) That's not an excuse though and he needs to improve his all round game for the new season.

If Webber's to catch Vettel in 2012, he needs to start out-qualifying him more regularly, and improve the starts. His defending and overtaking is good, so he just simply needs to get ahead of Vettel more. Webber is 12/1 for the championship, while Vettel is odds on, so that proves that people aren't expecting much from him. And, for the reasons I stated on Thursday, Vettel's going to take a hell of a lot of beating. However, I'd really like to see Webber do well this season, because I fear it may be his last in the sport.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking at the six world champions on the grid, as well as three other drivers in top teams, in articles like this, as we prepare for the start of the season.

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