2012: The year of the Oz?

You will struggle to find a more devoted Mark Webber fan than me. Sitting down for every Practice, Qualifying and Race of the F1 season, wearing his hat and shouting him on is a regular occurrence. His name and car are doodled all over the margins of my copy book at school and my twitter account is also used by me to show my support for the Aussie, something that, given his extremely likeable nature and glaringly obvious talent, there isn’t enough of. I am sure you will know by now who I will be rooting for in the 2012 Formula 1 World Championship but realistically, what are his chances?

The Aussie began his F1 racing in Australia 2002, and straight away stormed the grid and brought his Minardi home in 5th place, in spite of driving by far the slowest car on the grid. This trait of wringing the neck of his car and extracting every sinew of performance from it have come to be recognised as a Webber trait, much like close friend and fellow competitor Fernando Alonso.

Going for the championship in 2010, Mark led the majority of the year before loosing it as he retired in the 1st ever Koran Grand Prix. He finished 3rd in the championship, just 15 points off team-mate Sebastian Vettel, the World Champion.

In Australia 2011, Mark Qualified 3rd, beat Lewis Hamilton off the line but he finished 5th after a problem with the car. It was to be the start of a slow year.

However of late Mark has come under fire for his recent underperformance, he would be the first to admit that he has failed to discover the form he showed in 2010, something that he has clearly psychologically suffered from, however he also suffered massively with technical problems such as his KERS system which made a return to F1. Red Bull had never used it before and design guru Adrian Newey designed the car too tight to fit aerodynamic requirements and this affected the KERS system on both cars.

Mark suffered hugely with the KERS problem. At the start of the Malaysian Grand Prix, Webber started 2nd but without a proper KERS system, he was an open target. By the end of the lap, he was 10th.

In China during P3, Webber had an electrical fault in the car and had to leap from the car. During Qualifying, Red Bull decided not to run the system on the car and as a result, Webber failed to make it past Q1.

Another change for 2011 that blighted Mark Webber was the new Pirelli tyres. Webber could not get to grips – excuse the pun – with the new tyres which he found particularly hard to maintain; an area in which he was blitzed by team-mate Sebastian Vettel. This was clearly a huge factor in Webber’s poor performances, he still managed to showcase great pace (albeit on too few occasions) highlighted at the German GP where Webber achieved pole at the venue where he notched his 1st race two years beforehand. Mark made well his position at the front of the grid and had a good start but when he pitted halfway through the race Webber could not get the tyre’s up to the level of grip needed and he soon fell behind eventual winner Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

And then there were the starts! Mark lost 22 places on the first lap over the entire season. Renault often made miscalculations with Mark’s car and got the torque settings wrong, however it wasn’t all one way traffic as Mark was often guilty of ‘bogging down’, this is where the driver fails to keep the optimum number of revs for the biting point and can often result in the anti-stall procedure being inadvertently activated, this happened at Spa, where Webber lost 5 places off the line.

As I have highlighted it is clear that there were many factors prohibiting Mark from really unleashing his true talent on the imperious RB7 however it is also evident that adding new pieces of technology on the cars to Webber’s difficulty in overcoming the disappointment of the 2010 season were also of detriment to the Aussie. Furthermore although Red Bull maintain there is no number one driver in their garage everyone remembers the infamous “maintain the gap” radio call at Silverstone,  here Mark was clearly made play second fiddle to team mate, Sebastian Vettel. Mark could certainly do without this; however I see 2011 as being a soul finding experience Mark and I think he will come out of the other end even stronger, an even better driver. Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz insists that there will be no team orders in Red Bull for the 2012 Season, they are of course looking to promote their brand as an exciting product not a stingy and rigid set-up, so presuming Red Bull maintain this promise, I’m sure that the season will be Mark’s.

If you look to the Pre-Season testing and his strong performances at the end of last season, particularly at Interlagos, Mark does seem to be getting to grips with the new Pirelli tyres. However these times cannot be used to accurately predict how the cars will be performing in March when the season gets underway.

However as we know Mark is a great one lapper, which was shown when he won the DHL Fastest Lap Award in 2011. If his continued good management of the tyres can be transferred into races, because it would be silly of me to talk of tests and races in the same vein of performance then I am sure he will be on pole more than his German team-mate. Furthermore providing his starting issues can be resolved then one would hope he can maintain that lead to go on to win the races.

Mark has said that has professed to feeling confident ahead of the season and importantly is now aware of the magnitude of the task ahead of him given how brilliant Sebastian Vettel was last year. However Mark loves a challenge, he is constantly pushing himself away from the track and I am hoping that this passion to overcome adversity will see Mark Webber become the 2012 Champion.

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