Mark Webber is in many people’s eyes facing a pivotal year in his career in 2012 but the man himself says he prepares to enter his 11th Formula 1 season “the best I’ve felt for a while” and with the aim of showing people he can rediscover the form that took him so close to the title two years ago.
With Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel having very much not looked back since emerging on top against the odds in the three-way Abu Dhabi final race shootout of 2010, Webber, who led the now two-time champion German for much of that season, has again somewhat slipped back into the role of forgotten man among the drivers who are likely to have a car at their disposal to challenge for championship honours.
Webber for one hasn’t forgotten his performances in that 2010 season though and says he prepares to fly out to his home race in Australia in just under a fortnight aiming “to do a lot more winning” over the next seven months.
In an exclusive interview with me for BBC Radio 5 live, the Australian was frank about the problems that held him back at the start of last year in particular and laid much of the blame at his own door.
“I had a tough start to the year in terms of pace and also a few niggles here and there with reliability which put me on the back foot in terms of quali and races and things like that,” he explained. “But ultimately most of it was at my feet in not performing well enough, but from the middle part of the year certainly I picked that up and I had some stronger races and it was enough to finish the year with some good results and the win in Brazil was an added bonus if you like.
“So looking forward to [the new season], and there’s no reason whatsoever we can’t find that 2010 form again.”
Indeed after a winter to refocus, Webber admits he is feeling as prepared as he has for some time – and is eyeing a maiden home victory: “It’s the best I’ve felt for a while going into the first race let’s say, in terms of preparation and how we’re going to tackle that first event. So looking forward to that.
“Along with Monza, they’re the two ones I would desperately like to win. I’ve won some other ‘classics’ but it would be great clearly to win your home race; it would blow the roof off the place.”
Although he stood on the podium on 10 occasions last year – as many times as in 2010 – he claimed just one victory to Vettel’s 11, and that was in rather fortuitous circumstances when the sister Red Bull’s gearbox developed problems at the season finale in Brazil.
Webber believes getting the “subtleties” of a race weekend right is the key to turning second and third places into wins this year, knowing that momentum will be key to a stronger campaign.
With the indications from pre-season showing that Red Bull continue to hold an edge going to Melbourne Webber should on paper have the opportunity for another crack at F1’s biggest prize – although the Australian acknowledges that one of the appealing factors to many this season is probably the possibility that RBR’s winning run could be ended.
“We have some tough rivals and I think everybody is excited by the fact that Red Bull might get beaten – that’s what people probably would like,” he said.
“We’re a straight up-and-down unit: Adrian [Newey]’s there working incredibly hard, Christian [Horner] obviously running all the troops. Even if when you have an Adrian Newey, the seasons that we’ve had there are so many ways you can find yourself in a position to still screw so many opportunities up – and we haven’t done that. That’s what we’re good at and what we have to keep doing.”
Webber also had some interesting views on one of the men most likely to challenge Red Bull this year, Lewis Hamilton, in wake of the Briton’s tumultuous 2011 – suggesting those kind of experiences weren’t unusual for a sportsman, particularly one with the McLaren man’s profile, and just had to be managed correctly.
Asked if he expected a reaction from Hamilton this year, Webber replied: “I don’t think that we’ll see too much of a change. There’s a lot of positives that Lewis did last year. He is still clearly gifted behind the wheel, we know that. Obviously some of his judgements here and there; he was involved in more incidents than he would have liked to have been involved in clearly, especially with Felipe – they were a magnet for each other.
“…it’s normal for a sportsman and a sportswoman in their career they’re going to go through some head winds in his career. Particularly someone like him who’s had so much success so early, and he’s black and he’s got interest and he’s got a girlfriend of profile – so this is of interest to a lot of people.
“It needs managing and, again, it’s LH looking in the mirror and working out what is best for him. Let’s hope he’s strong but not too strong – as a competitor you hope that he can realise his potential, but clearly we still want to beat him.”