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Christian Horner explains Mark Webber’s problem with starts this season
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Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Sep 2011   |  6:30 pm GMT  |  73 comments

One of the most striking stats from the JA on F1 Strategy Briefing, supported by UBS, is the start record this season of Mark Webber.

The Red Bull driver had lost 20 places on aggregate off the start line and after he lost five places at the start in Spa many readers have posted questions about this recently.

So we spoke to Red Bull boss Christian Horner and he gave this explanation,

“It’s been a culmination of things really, ” he said. “The Spa thing was more a calculation on the Renault side really, measuring the amount of torque that was required and Sebastian was within just 100 revs of having exactly the same start as Mark.

“It was one of those things about the engine tying in with the chassis electronics and not having done a start over the weekend because of the wet weather, more grip than expected and an uphill start – all those factors came together.

Another question many fans want to know is how much of this is dictated by the electronic systems on the car and how much is driver operated.

“Well you have two clutches, so the driver will release one lever and then feed in the other,” explained Horner. “So how they prepare the clutch on the way to the line is important, the engineers give them instructions on the number of burn-outs they need to do. They rehearse religiously to get the clutch clean – the best it can be for the start.

“Then it’s about matching the torque demand from the engine, through the clutch bite point and synchronising that. The drivers have the throttle position which they manage with the foot, then with the clutch he needs to keep his arm light, dumping one lever, feeding in the other one. At the same time he has to use his mirrors to see what’s around him.

“It’s very easy to overslip the tyres, creating wheel spin. It’s easy to underslip, where the engine bogs down and you have a bunny-hop start.

“So it’s a very small window that you are operating in.

“Mark’s had some good starts, unfortunately the bad starts have been when he’s been right up the front.”

Team mate Sebastian Vettel in contrast has lost an aggregate four places off the start, including one in Monza where he started on pole and was second at the end of the first sector of the lap. It is one slight weakness in Red Bull’s otherwise pretty much optimised game, possibly also linked with its sub-optimal KERS system, which has been reduced for packaging purposes. Not only do they have a fast car, they are also top of the pit stop time league table, for example.

Teams do a lot of work on starts, especially if they aren’t working out well, Williams for example was losing a lot of places early in the season and seems to have rectified the problem.

Conversely, teams like Mercedes and Force India have had consistently very strong starts this season.

For a visual explanation of how the clutch levers and bite point adjusters work on an F1 steering wheel, here is a video I shot last season at Team Lotus.

Watch out for the Strategy Briefing for Singapore here on JA on F1 early next week.

Additional reporting: Tom Clarkson

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73 Comments
  1. Davexxx says:

    Boy, heavy complicated stuff! So much to have to do at the start of a race! However I’m glad (a) DRIVERS have to do a certain amount, and that it’s no longer all electronically controlled; (b) that Red Bull at least still don’t have everything perfect! If I was an F1 driver I’d happily trade having not-quite-perfect starts but still gatherig a reasonable number of points, for being with a lower team!

  2. C says:

    Apologies if I’m missing something but that’s still left the question mostly unanswered in my mind. Spa, yes maybe but is it the same reasoning behind the others? Mainly engine/clutch setup?

    1. gonzeche says:

      I understand from Horner’s answer that the reason behind Mark’s other poor starts is no other than Mark’s ability (compared to Seb’s) to manage to do all this things. Which at the end of the day is why Mark is the team’s #2 driver.

      1. Roddy says:

        I seem to remember Ron Dennis was much more direct about David Coulhard’s bad start once, “brain fade”!

    2. g says:

      he just tells you what the driver does off the line wich most of us knew anyway dosnt explain marks start problems compared to last year wich were better whats changed?

    3. Jo Torrent says:

      I don’t understand why my comment has been moderated. I always say nice things about this blog. I criticized it gently this time and I’ve been moderated which is very unfair IMO.

    4. Phil says:

      Not to mention Mark has a history of bad starting. It’s not just this year. Go back to the race in Malaysia where he was with Jag, and qaulied 1st or 2nd.

  3. JEVthebest says:

    Vergne is the best, and guess who give him the number one trophy… Prost that rather symbolic

  4. Martin says:

    James,
    could you get an explaination of the need for ‘two cluches and two leavers’ and how does it work ?
    Thanks,
    Martin

    1. Ohm says:

      Hey Martin,

      I believe they only have 1 clutch but 2 levers. I think this is how it works, others please correct me if I get this wrong!

      One lever acts like normal road car clutch pedals so you hold this to the amount of slip you want when the lights go out (although I suspect they can just completely pull the lever and the amount of slip is set by the electronics). The other lever acts like a switch. When it is pulled, the car will be in 100% slip (for building up revs on the grid), when it is released, the car’s clutch will be controlled by the first lever.

      This means when the lights go out, the driver can just dump the second lever and get from 100% slip to say 50% because the first lever is already set at 50%. This makes it faster and more accurate than doing it with one hand and lever because it’s easier physically to just quickly completely release a lever than to quickly release it to a certain position.

      Hope that helps!

  5. Pete Watson says:

    Very interesting article James’s and it has become kind of predictable that he will get bogged down now! Although Christian only really commented on Spa start in particular? Did he comment on what caused any of the other bad starts?

    Also – great to meet you in the paddock at Spa, what a great race it turned out to be! Pete

    1. James Allen says:

      Great to meet you too. Thanks for coming to say hello

  6. Mah says:

    Great video! I watched it twice!

  7. John H says:

    Hmmm interesting.

    Why is it that Webber’s KERS never seems to work either whereas Vettel’s has been fine this season?

    1. Rob says:

      From a race perspective I honestly think it’s because Webber is in traffic and doesn’t get clean airflow to allow his KERS system to get sufficient cooling, where as Vettel tends to be out front in the fresh air. Seb had a problem with his KERS in a race mid season when he was in traffic (I can’t remeber which one it was). Why does Webber’s seem to fail around Q3? I don’t know…

      1. Helmut of Marko 4 seb... says:

        Rob, it is simply a case of ensuring my darling golden boy Seb gets the edge, as he deserves in my Red Bull team! …eerrr sorry Dietrich’s team… I do not understand why you would question my strategy, and to be honest i would like you to stop doing so publicly or i will fire you!!! eerrr i mean…

  8. Rubinho's Keyfob says:

    What a fantastic video. If anything, it just goes to show that even the “back marker” teams actually have incredibly impressive technology and experience to bring to their race.

  9. AJH says:

    So what was the wing button in the video, James?

    1. Rodger says:

      Since the video is of the 2010 wheel I would suspect that is to work the adjustable front wing they had last season.

  10. HowardHughes says:

    Y’know…reading this got me thinking of arguably the best starter this year, Michael Schumacher. Which got me wondering whether, had he been in the 2nd Red Bull this season, he’d have done better than Webber. I’d say there’s a good chance if I’m honest.

    A propos of nothing really, I’m curious how long it’ll before before UBS needs ‘support’ from James, rather than the other way round ;o)

  11. MikeW says:

    I’m finding it hard to read Horner’s meaning here… does he imply that the problem is with the man or the machine?

    Button seems to not get good starts either – but his seem to be compounded by not running very competitively through the rest of the first lap.

    Is his a similar clutch-based problem, or more to do with not turning the tyres on so quickly (whether deliberately or not)?

  12. Martin says:

    A nice article and informative video. I think another factor is that Mark is probably not as aggressive into the first turn as several other drivers. So while the car loses some places, Mark probably adds to it with some caution.

    With the car stationary on the grid for 30 seconds the tyre temperatures and brake temperatures will be down and the fuel mass is at its greatest, so the car will be in its slowest form. I don’t think Mark has quite the instant feel for changing grip levels of some of the other drivers (e.g. Vettel and Hamilton). He’ll often be very fast in the wet, making up places, but not usually on the first lap of a race or after a safety car period.

    1. Glenn says:

      I tend to agree with your comment regarding Mark being less aggressive into turn 1. I think it’s a case of the young bull and the old bull (no pun intended). Unfortunately for Mark it’s a young bulls sport. He who hesitates etc etc.
      The whole clutch thing sounds way too complicated to me. Levers in, levers out, light arms, burn outs. No wonder the kids can do it, it sounds like a PS3 controller deal rather than a motor car.
      Thanks James. Very interesting article and video.

  13. Mr Squiggle says:

    Very interesting comments.

    Team management needs to carry a large portion of blame here.

    Any team that allows such an established pattern of poor starts to continue has a major team management question mark hanging over its head.

    Unless, of course, its MW steadfastly refusing to listen to advice…..

    As an aside, I thought his start at Monza was pretty solid, it was just unlucky to be behind Jenson, who had a shocker.

    1. Doug says:

      Yep…Jenson had clutch slip, he mentioned it in his interview next to Martin Whitmarsh and gave him a friendly ‘give me a decent car’ look!

  14. L33t_Of_Lag says:

    I rather liked that video, cheers.

    1. David MacPhee says:

      I’d like to echo L33t’s simple comment. Really enjoyable video…thank you.

  15. Douglas says:

    So it’s Marks fault, then.
    How many places did he loose last year on starts, on aggregate?

  16. bmg says:

    So james, would you say that webbers start are caused by poor info from his Engineer?

    Webber has always been a bit dodgee with his starts.

  17. Conor says:

    It’s also much harder for Vettel to make places up when he starts on pole so often..

    1. Liam in Sydney says:

      Exactly what I was thinking. It is a bit disingenious to start labelling ‘places lost’ off the start when you are on pole, more often than not. On average, there is nothing wrong with Seb’s starts considering they have one of the weaker KERS.

      IMHO, Mark has numerous problems, both the release from his grid box plus his KERS being reduced or inoperable. To me, it is the release that is his major worry and needs to be ironed out asap.

    2. Synman says:

      I made exactly the same point on this forum recently. It’s hard to gain places if you’re on pole and it’s hard to lose places if you start at the back.

      It might be possible to weight the numbers. When I get a moment I’ll try that out.

  18. Brandon says:

    That didn’t explain a single thing that I haven’t already heard this year. I love you Mahk you need to show what you’re capable of!

  19. Eyad says:

    James great article still doesn’t explain why with the same hardware seb has had better starts. Seems like the problem is with the driver would you agree?

  20. Brian says:

    Fascinating information. It’s amazing what control a driver has over the inner workings of the car.

    But it still doesn’t come right out and explain what Webber’s difficulty is. Given how measurement-driven F1 teams are, I would assume(!) that they could map an algorithm to compensate for a driver’s clutch-management issues. Or is that what is expressly forbidden?

    1. Rodger says:

      That would be a type of launch control. That sort of thing was outlawed awhile ago.

  21. Promode says:

    Other than the Renault + Kers issue I think there is another much simpler explanation. Mark is simply ‘out of form’ and his confidence has taken a beating. The massa move was another example. Once he outqualifies and outraces Vettel in a couple of race (easier said than done), he will be fine.

    1. Rob Newman says:

      I agree. Since Brazil 2010, Webber’s confidence nose dived. Sometimes he is over optimistic.

      With the new partnership, let’s wait and see how the Renaul + Kers issue will be next year – http://bit.ly/nLQLju .

  22. Rob Newman says:

    Thanks for the article and the video James. Excellent information.

    Apart from technical stuff involved at the start of the race, there is nerves and high tension. I feel some drivers, especially Webber and Button are not good at handling that pressure. On the other hand, the Mercedes and Ferrari drivers don’t really bother as they don’t have anything to lose so they go for it.

    A mistake most of the drivers do is, at the start, they want to attack the driver(s) in front and forget the attacks coming from behind and then end up losing places.

    (e-petition – Keep Formula 1 Free To Air in the UK – http://bit.ly/q90UF8 )

  23. Dominic says:

    Give us back the good old mechanical gearbox and the clutch pedal and off they will go and with a good control of wheel spin, they should do the work…

    1. Brian says:

      Agreed. Either permit full launch control to level the playing field, or give control back to the drivers.

      I think that as F1 is committed to the standing start, they should let the drivers be in charge of that vital few seconds.

  24. Adrian Newey Jnr says:

    Simple solution. Something that every 17yo does when they get their licence. Get a 2009 spec car (to get around testing rules) and an empty car park. Then practice, practice, practice!

    1. They can use a modern car, as long as it is straight-line testing. ;-)

  25. Michael S says:

    Thing is… Mark had bad starts last year too. Not sure, but the firther up front he is the worse he does. I don’t want to say it is pressure, but…..

  26. CGM says:

    So, in regard to Spa, Horner is seemingly part-blaming Renault, part-blaming the weather, and part-blaming the fact that it was uphill.
    Sure that somewhat explains Spa (maybe a bit dubiously but nonetheless), but were any reasons offered by CH in regard Mark Webbers problem with starts this season (as opposed to just at Spa) ? Seems very strange that we’re over halfway thru the season and the obvious problems remain (1) apparently undiagnosed and (2) unrectified ?

  27. F1Fan4Life says:

    James, interesting as always but it would be great if he could explain why it seems Mark Webber’s car tends to have so many problems during the race weekends? If I’m not mistaken I read somewhere that Mark had problems again in Monza during qualifying. It’s one thing if its happening at the start of the season but we are past midway. Any thoughts?

    1. James Allen says:

      He had an engine problem in Monza on Friday. Quali problems were self inflicted, by his own admission

  28. Bevan says:

    Its called stress,Mark needs to get his act together.
    C’mon guys,why would RB sabotage MW’s starts,they would just tell him to make room for the soon to be & deserved 2011 WDC,& we would all understand as that is how it is & always has been,& if that didn’t work there’s always the old sticky wheel nut to add an air of authenticity.
    After seeing SV take FA around the outside at the Grand Curve off the grass who could blame RB for favouring Vettel.

    1. OzEye says:

      Did you miss mw’s pass around the outside of Alonso at Ean Rouge?
      AND he stayed ON the racing surface

      I would argue this pass from webber was better than the Vettel one….given the locations, speeds and amount of balls required/available to get past on the (legal?) racing surfaces

      Personally..I believe MW is knobled – either by horrendous bad luck or a “technical issue” which this year mark seems to be taking most of the responsibility for.

      Does he do this because he IS responsible for the KERS unit in his car almost always failing prior to Q3?
      And if it’s not KERS then it’s some other small thing – including the ok’d stuck wheel nut.

      If there is one book I would like to see written when MW retires…it the one I think his father and personal trainer should combine to write – the view from the back of the garage…the things they saw, heard and surmise went on behind the scenes during this competitive period of RBR

      Mark still has a future driving after F1 and may lose out considerably in the future if he were to write a tell all tome….but his Dad? Me thinks Mr Webber might be happy to see a bit more of his own bed back in Oz…and would have nothing to Lose … By just telling it how he saw it.

      I’d buy it James
      My you should consider helping them write it?

      1. tayf says:

        I’d certainly read it

      2. AussieGrit says:

        Ozeye,i think your 100% right ,i have no doubt that Mark is being nobbled in Q3 and in the races this year…….Monza was his own mistake ?

        Is it right that Mark has demanded equal treatment in his contract for next year ???

        James do you know anything on this ?

        Cheers

        Mike

      3. OzEye says:

        I read somewhere here that Horner said SV was within 100RPM of having the same BAD START webber had recently (Spa i think)

        So if 100RPM will make that kind of difference to the launch of the car…which translates to significant loss of position off the start of between 4 and 8 or more positions…prior to T1 in most cases…..is it so hard to believe that under orders from higher ups – the propeller cap wearing engine/computer boffins could reduce the RPM setting in clutches of MWs car by…oh lets say 100RPM…and regardless of how pedantic and fastidious MW is in his button pushing on the steering wheel in the seconds leading up to the start..the car will ALWAYS bog down and go into anti stall because the launch map for his clutches have been set 100RPM lower than Sebs

        Could your ear pick the difference between 13500RPM and 13400RPM…on the start line with all the other cars at similar revs? I doubt Webbers could.

        The only way that Mark could be guaranteed of getting equal equipment with Seb is if the team agreed to give Mark his choice of car… his or Sebs AFTER qually…which of course cant happen.

        I also suspect that even though the cars are in park ferme after qually – changes of an electronic nature can & are being made to the cars…and as far as i am aware – there is no data monitoring done by the FIA on any of the many data transmissions between car and pit garage…so how would they know of changes had any been made?

        Remember i am talking here about small changes that adjust fuel flow rates, mixture, torgue curves, power curves…and clutch settings.

        All things the FIA and its disciples have no way of checking….and no base line to check any findings against if they did

        Webbers only hope of winning next year.. aside from driving like a champion with zero mistakes on his part or the teams..is if Seb does a Kubica over the Xmas break

      4. AussieGrit says:

        Thanks for a great reply, of coarse your right,i was really hoping Mark would go to another team next year but at 35 it would not be easy ,

        Hope he does well for the rest of the year ,if Rb permit it ………..

  29. Tony says:

    If Red Bull has a compromised KERS system for packaging reasons will they have problems when they have to have enough energy to run on electricity in the pit lane? And will this new requirement factor in to how many pit stops you make?

    1. terryshep says:

      I wouldn’t worry about that, Tony, it’ll be a whole new design for those rules and since the engine will be smaller, there’ll be a bit more room for packaging.

      No, as a spectator, what you need to worry about is that Adrian Newey always says that he loves it when new regulations come out, it gives him a chance to be creative. We’re in enough trouble with Red Bull without Adrian getting creative again.

      1. Tony says:

        Sounds like the spiritual heir to Colin Chapman, but even he got it wrong on occasion eg the Lotus 80 and 93…

  30. dramaqueen says:

    I just cant believe a driver for the best F1 team
    for the last couple of years cant start well so often. There’s more to this we are not being told.

    1. It is odd that he’s had many many seasons of decent starts, many of which were with similarly non-automatic systems… but now he suddenly can’t start well to save his life.

      I’m not ready to don the tin-foil hat yet, but it’s certainly weird.

      1. dramaqueen says:

        You know i’ve watch Marks starts as close as possible given the coverage we have access to.
        Every time when he what i think is letting out the clutch the bloody thing bogs down and there’s no revs meaning no torque.
        I’m sorry James but whilst i thank you for appeasing the Webber fans with this article it simply falls a long way short of explaining anything. If you just take Christian Horners comments he blames one race on the hardware.
        How can a guy who has raced all his life and now in the twilight in the BEST team with the BEST car, fail to get away as good as the last placed teams ? It just defies belief.

  31. OzF says:

    When Seb’s on pole practically every race its going to be hard for him to gain many positions from start.

  32. Sergio says:

    Well, it’s not necessary that kind of explanations because F1 it’s a question of FAITH. Mark has supposedly a cluth problem (as Alonso did), KERS problem, and tyres problem. All that issues proves that Mark’s car is dramatically worse than prevous season. That season that showed us a open war beetwen two team mates: the Marko’s choice and the aussie.(remember?). You can compare this season with previous season and you can agree (or not) that RB has improving his “resources”. All calmed and Vettel crushing and cruising towards his second World champion. Afterwards you can believe or not believe to Horner. It’s the only thing that you can do. It seems weird that the best race of Mark (this season) was the one who started from 18th place. No problems there, if the race lasted 5 laps more even he could reached Sebastian. Believe or not to believe that is the question.

  33. captainj84 says:

    Call me cynical but last season someone made a comment on here that has stuck in my mind and now i kind of believe it……they said along the lines of “watch webber next season and i guarantee you he will have reliability issues which will hamper his championship title and allow for seb to be the clear no 1 in the team”. Look where we are now, reliability issue dodgy pitstops, bad strategy calls. The guy was 100% spot on. If mark was as competitive as last year then the team would struggle to justify their bias to seb but now with the gap ever increasing they can. I hate it when RB come out and say there is no bias and the drivers are allowed to race and are equals etc……it’s total rubbish and I now dislike RB for this and the way (we perceive) mark has been treated. And folk wonder why he is not performing as well as seb, his confidence must be shot and we all know how much this is a mental sport as well as physical. I’ll always cheer for Webber but never for RedBull!

  34. Red5 says:

    The start is a one-off procedure and not easy to simulate on a laptop. I also suspect the drivers have plenty to think about before the red lights go out, buttons to push, etc.

    Like a footballer who thinks too much about a penalty perhaps Mark needs to relax more and think less. But I also agree with one comment above that RB + Renault should be able to make the operating window a little bit larger.

  35. JEVthebest says:

    Jev is proving to be much better than Ricciardo and the most important, he doesn’t feel the pression. I can tell you, he’s the next enormous thing in F1.

  36. Christopher Snowdon says:

    Like Mark W, but like Kimi R more :) Will we ever see him back?

  37. coal crusher says:

    Very interesting article James’s and it has become kind of predictable that he will get bogged down now! Although Christian only really commented on Spa start in particular? Did he comment on what caused any of the other bad starts?

  38. Andrew says:

    This was on Channel 10′s coverage of F1 in Australia, the segment is called “Ask TC”.

    1. John says:

      Andrew.And what was mentioned in that segment called “Ask TC”….would like to know since I missed.

  39. Andrew says:

    TC asked Christian Horner the same question. Horner said the same thing word for word. Horner must answer this question all the time or JA just lifted the quote from that interview.

    1. James Allen says:

      If you read the article you’ll see that it was done with TC. We both work for ONE HD in Australia

  40. CJ the 2cnd, probably... says:

    I think this article should have been entitled “Christian Horner fais to explain Mark Webber’s problems with starts this season, but explains why starts are jolly tricky”!
    I guess I am more a MW fan than a CH fan but they are both racers. I may be accused of cross threading here!

  41. glenn says:

    I see there are a few conspiracy theorists here. I see no reason to hobble Mark for the sake of Seb. RBR’s goal must be for a 1-2 finish every meeting. They make no secret of the fact that the team is built around Seb this year. Mark knows this, everyone knows this. Ideally Seb would win every race and Mark would run 2nd. RBR have nothing to gain by ensuring Mark loses places off the start, thereby jeopardising his expected 2nd place finish, or if reliabilty should effect Seb’s car, a 1st place finish. If Mark were to blitz the start and find himself in the lead and Seb in 2nd, RBR could easily control the situation and have the places switched around at any point they choose, preferably before the final pitstop. There are many ways to achieve this.
    I’m a huge MW fan but believe that Mark is simply a rubbish starter this year. Call it pressure, anger, whathaveyou (is that a word?)
    CH’s explanation is diplomatic and not unexpected. He can’t very well come out and say Mark is a rubbish starter. He has to allow Mark to save face.
    I haven’t looked into the possibilty of “dirty side of the grid” starts being a factor but it may be interesting to check out.

  42. jjletho says:

    they probably make webber lose a few positions on purpose, just to avoid any battle with vettel like last year. it’s pretty easy with electronics to make one car start slower than the other one. the only another explanation is that webber has been possesed by aliens or has attention deficit disorder and can’t press the right buttons on the car.

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