The state of play for Button, Webber and Vettel
Scuderia Ferrari
The state of play for Button, Webber and Vettel
Posted By: James Allen  |  16 Jul 2009   |  8:20 am GMT  |  42 comments

On my way back from the airport on Sunday night my taxi driver was talking about Mosley this and Ecclestone that and I asked him if he was interested in other sports. He was. So then I asked him if he could name the regulatory and commercial bosses of any of those sports. He could not. These larger than life characters have actually taken over the limelight from the drivers this season, which is extraordinary but it looks like that is about to end and the focus for the final eight races will be on who is going to win the world championship.

There are four contenders, if you include Rubens Barrichello, but he seems to think that the Brawn team doesn’t want him to win the championship. In all probability, either Jenson Button, Mark Webber or Sebastian Vettel will be world champion. Any of the them would make a great ambassador for the sport; they are all engaging, articulate positive people. Two of them are in the autumn of their careers (well maybe late Summer) and are finding success late on, like Nigel Mansell and Mika Hakkinen. The other is following in Lewis Hamilton’s footsteps and getting it done right from the start of his career.

Mark Webber’s win on Sunday was quite Mansell-esque. He was charging hard, particularly after the drive through penalty, which handed the initiative to Rubens Barrichello. I reviewed the live twitter feed I do during the race and there were several points when the pendulum swung Rubens’ way, like the start and  following the drive through, and then swung Mark’s way, like when Rubens was being held up by Massa in the second stint and when the fuel rig failed. It was a terrific race and despite appearances, it was not an easy win for Webber.

David Coulthard  in the Telegraph described it as the best dry weather performance of the season. It was in his Red Bull branded driver column, so a notch down from fully impartial, but nevertheless a valid observation.

Webber is on cloud nine now and I wonder whether he will get that kick of confidence from the win, as Mansell did in 1985 when he finally got the first win after seven years of trying.

“I’ve crossed the unchartered waters of pole position and victory, so that can only help, it can’t be a hindrance, ” said Webber. “To lead and not be the chaser was a first for me. I hope that the momentum can continue. Getting this win means that when it’s close the races might seem more straightforward for me.”

This last line I find very interesting. It’s like Webber feels he has unlocked some secret by crossing the line first on Sunday. The picture is clearer, it will make things mentally more straightforward for him in other situations, the clouds of doubt and uncertainty have cleared.

Button sounds worried and I’m slightly surprised to hear him say the things he was saying  after the race because they give too much away. Asked if he was worried he said,

“Wouldn’t you be? I’ve had a sixth and a fifth the last two races.  I expected more here but it was just the race didn’t go our way. I expected to be on the podium, I didn’t expect to beat the Red Bulls so yeah you have to worry, but I don’t think it’s ‘Oh sh*t we’re going to lose the championship’. It’s ‘Come on let’s make the difference’. We’ve got some new parts for Hungary and I’m looking forward to that. I think our car will be strong there. We don’t know how strong. We’ll have to wait and see.

“These are the two circuits that have been frustrating for us because of the temperatures. If we’re not quick on a hot track then we’ve got to really worry.”

You’ve got to admire his honesty, but Red Bull will sense weakness. Brawn has an upgrade due for Budapest and should go well there and in Valencia, but I see no reason why they should move ahead of Red Bull unless it is a massive upgrade, like the one Red Bull brought in Silverstone. Red Bull have a very aggressive development plan themselves. It will be a fight and it will be critical to get qualifying and the race right to come out in front.

Button has also had luck on his side so far, with no retirements. He will do well to keep that going to the end of the season. On the other side he does have a 21 point cushion.

Another complicating factor is the increase in performance of the Ferrari and McLaren. McLaren can qualify behind the Brawn and Red Bulls and then mess up their race by getting ahead at the start using KERS , while the Ferrari is a poor qualifying car but it can gain places with KERS, as Massa showed on Sunday. He cost Vettel any chance of a win. Button’s race was wrecked by falling behind Kovalainen in the opening stint.

Vettel has been quite quiet since Sunday. He made his usual thoughtful analysis after the race and admitted  that Webber had been ‘unbeatable’ all weekend. But it will have been quite a sobering afternoon for him. Vettel had the upper hand in that team earlier in the season, but now Webber has come back at him strongly.

The team is giving them both an equal chance, which some people have criticised. They feel that Vettel is the faster of the two and letting Webber win on Sunday will give him a surge of confidence which might knock Vettel back. But that is racing. Vettel has already shown he’s got a tough mentality and if he loses out to Webber now then he will only come back stronger next year. He has made three mistakes in races on days when Button won, he’s a young charger who’s right on the edge, so that’s why Red Bull have hedged their bets and continue to do so.

Button, Webber, Vettel – which one will it be?

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1

Interesting that people say Vettel would be right up there if he didn’t make so many mistakes but apart from Kubica turning in on him it really is part and parcel of driving .. not binning it that is (the decision to try and stop Kubica from passing was his Vettel’smistake however).

Webber on the other hand, was absolutely shafted by a brain EXPLOSION from Sutil in Bahrain, Kovalainen forgeting where to brake in Melbourne and the half points in Malaysia. I am not even including Kimi’s brain fart in qualy at Silverstone as I am not sure that cost Webber points.

Even with just ‘solid’ finishes in melbourne, Bahrain and Malaysia and Mark is pretty much equal on points with Button.

Food for thought.

2

Your argument supports my point …. I don’t see a point of difference. 605 is the weight of both cars dry…

Have I missed something?

We seem to be agreeing.

3

Yes, we are agreeing. Obviously my convoluted grasp of the English language has again failed me.

4

Just:

I too have seen internet conjecture with people suggesting that Webber’s car has a ‘dry’ weight in excess of 605kg. Personally I agree strongly with Thyraeus comment: “The only certainty is no serious F1 car would turn up weighing more than minimum weight + fuel”.

One simple piece of ‘evidence’ I can give you to support this is to look at how competitive Webber has been in the first 2 sessions of qualifying Q1 and Q2. With all the cars running as close to their dry weight in these two sessions as possible, you would expect Webber to be at a definite disadvantage if he was running a higher dry weight than his competitors. Though the fact is these two sessions have been Mark’s most competitive relative to his rivals (notably Vettel), more so than Q3, where the penalty of running a heavier dry weight would be less of a disadvantage.

With regard to Webber pitting before Vettel last round, I believe Webber’s pits stop was a lap early than he was fueled for. The reason RBR appear to have made this call was that Webber had significant rear tyre degradation (check the footage of his car whilst he served his drive through), and RBR decided to stop him early in order to ensure he maintained track position over Button after his pit stop, who was actually lapping quite fast at that stage. In support of this conjecture, note that although Webber stopped two laps before Vettel at the first stops and had a slighter shorter fill time, Webber ran a second stint that was a lap longer than Vettel’s, ie. Webber still had fuel in this car at the first stop.

One final point that demonstrates that Webber doesn’t run a dry weight over 605kg is the Silverstone first stint, where Vettel had a car that weighed 666.5 kg, weighing 7kg more than Webber’s car with 659.5kg, yet Vettel only ran one lap longer. This means that if Webber was running his car over the dry weight even by as little as 5kg, he would’ve had to magically saved 4 laps worth over fuel over a 19 lap stint to achieve this result, obviously impossible.

5

This season reminds me a lot of 2006, Alonso was dominating the first half of the season and it looked like he could even beat the most points in a season record. Schumacher had a slow start to the season with a few mistakes, but came back from around 25 points down at the half way point yet managed to get dead even with a couple of races to go, due to Renault being less competetive, team errors, reliability etc.

I think we will see a repeat of that this season.. hopefully.. The only differnece is that Webber and Vettel will be taking points off each other, but if Button gets atleast one DNF or continues his current form then both Red Bull drivers could catch up. After Turkey I was sure that this championship was over, but Red Bull has amazed me.

6

Hi James,

What is the current engine situation of both RBR and Brawn. If I remember correctly, I think RBR have used more Renault engines that Brawn has used Merc engines.

Isn’t there a chance that RBR might run out of new engines sooner than Brawn??

7

My heart says Jenson but I fear it will be Vettel. Lewis currently has the record for youngest champion. Vettel would break that record if he won it this year but if he wins it next year would he break that record? I hope not. I want Vettel to be a future champion as I really like …. just not yet!

Jenson for champion next year and Lewis next year!

8

Thyraeus:

Thanks for your post. I had considered that strategy (eg traffic) would have affected when the Red Bull drivers pitted, as well as being able to save fuel while in traffic, but that doesn’t explain Horner’s comments. It seems like the only explanation is that Horner was just plain wrong. Strikes me as a pretty unsatisfying explanation, but I guess it’ll have to do.

9

I have to say that although the media coverage of F1 politics has been crazy huge, I was surprised that there was nary a mention of it in the BBC broadcast. Top marks to them for keeping the coverage focused where it should be!

10

In Reply to ‘Just’ July 16th, 2009 @ 9:23 am

605kg is the minimum weight for all cars including driver and KERS (if installed) excluding fuel – It is too easy for cars to be under that weight – so they add ballast to bring it up – No team would ever be in the situation where they were over the minimum weight – the speed penalty per kg is too great.

KERS cars loose some ballast to the KERS unit. Heavy Drivers (Webber) loose some ballast to their bodyweight.

The lighter the driver and Car (i.e. without KERS the Ballast can be weighted ‘up front’ where it counts) the better (more flexibility with placement) – it is likely that Seb V’s car is better ballanced than Mark’s because he can move 15kg of ballast to the nose (whereas Webber keeps it on his Bum!).

Lets imagine that the RB5 actually weights 500kg without driver or fuel

#14

RB5 – 500kg

Webber 70kg

Ballast 35kg

Total 605kg

#15

RB5 – 500kg

Seb V 55kg

Ballast 50kg

Total 605kg

Seb likely did have more fuel than Webber for Q3 because he had planned to do 2 final runs…but missed out. So Christian KNEW that at the start of Q3 Seb had more fuel (1 lap?).

What we don’t know is how much fuel Seb saved vs Mark on the in-lap after Q3…it would seem that Mark saved more because after Q3 they both had the same amount of fuel – 56kg.

We don’t know that Seb actually had 2 more laps ‘in the tank’ than Mark in the race – because both drivers spent time behind slower cars ‘saving gas’ + Mark’s drive-through would have altered his fuel consumption.

Mark sitting for 20-odd laps behind RB would definitely have saved more than Seb V who was actually defending in the early stages.

Cars don’t always pit based only on fuel – Strategy drives the Pit Stops – Perhaps the computer told RBR that Mark should pit on lap 20 because it would be advantageous (not stuck too close to Nico or Kubica for example) and he actually could have driven to lap 22 like Seb with 56kg of fuel – Maybe his ultra fast (quali-like) laps after the drive-through used more fuel so he had to pit before Seb…..lots of possibilities we will never really know….

The only certainty is no serious F1 car would turn up weighing more than minimum weight + fuel …which is why they all pick up marbles on the slow-down lap after the rece…Every gram counts!

11

Thanks for that. There is another 5kg or so of fluids, water, oil etc to account for, so 610kg is a more accurate figure before you put any fuel in the car.

12

Webber’s still a journeyman in my book…..

13

I think it will be Button in the end but I am glad to see him being pushed by the Red Bulls. I hope Rubens can lift his chin up a bit and take the fight to Jenson also – Rubens is still bloody quick and should be a good wing man. Full Marks (sorry about the pun) to Mr. Webber – he had a fine race and no doubt will have some more. Young Seb will be WDC one day – he has time on his side.

So a great second half of the season now and hopefully, hopefully, hopefully… the FIA will shut up and we will hear nothing until the Ari vs Jean vote in October. Let’s hope the stewards behave – there was a bit of a wobble Sunday when they took their time investigating MW.

14

Red Bull’s upgrade at Silverstone seems to have put the car on top in terms of speed, but it is WAY too early to start anointing them as posing an imminent threat to Button. For one, Button still has a very sizable lead, and that’s going to be hard to overcome no matter how good the Red Bull is.

But secondly, we still haven’t seen how the Red Bull will perform in hot races relative to the Brawn. Silverstone and Nurburgring were both very cool races by the standard of the races in Southern Europe and South Asia from earlier this season, and it’s well known now how much the Brawn struggles to put heat into the tires in cool conditions (Whereas the Red Bull does a nasty job of overcooking the tires in hot conditions). Assuming it doesn’t rain in Budapest or Valencia, we could see very different races unfold there with the Brawn once again having the advantage in hot conditions. Not only this, but the hot weather may end up testing the reliability of the Red Bull, which is a very aggressively designed car to be sure.

Furthermore, the emergence of McLaren and Renault will also complicate matters. McLaren and Renault both seem to have made big steps in the pace of their cars, and it looks like Hamilton and Alonso will now both be qualifying at least in the bottom half of Q3 (if not higher). Both drivers are extremely good on starts (with Hamilton being boosted by KERS, which he really seems to have mastered, and Alonso having it sometimes) and could foul up races for whoever qualifies on the 2nd row out of Button, Vettel, and Webber. Both drivers have said they expect to start challenging for podiums and even victories soon, and this will take points off of the top-3 drivers.

All in all, this season reminds me of 2005. Renault and Alonso came blazing out of the gate, with the Spaniard taking 3 of the first 4 Grands Prix and the team taking all of them. McLaren then upgraded the car after the first few races, and Raikkonen was unbeatable in pace for the rest of the season, but by that point Alonso was already up 29 points on him. Raikkonen had a bevy of reliability problems that held him back, while Alonso remained consistent and struck when Iceman faltered, resulting in a championship. Button may be behind in pace right now, but I’m thinking his consistency throughout the year will see him through.

15

In a slightly tangential comment, I am wondering about the current state of play of Brawn’s sponsorship arrangements. Earlier in the season, when their dominance was almost total, sponsors seemed to be lining up. Since then, notwithstanding the Branson/Virgin chirping, there has been almost total silence. Are you hearing anything James?

Brawn must be stretched in terms of splitting resources between upgrades for this year’s car and developing next year’s car. It seems to me that, given their situation, Brawn really ought to focus on this year, on the assumption (perhaps naive) that a reigning world champion would attract funding. Red Bull, on the other hand, seems to have ample resources to do both.

Over the last ten years, it seems that given the technical leaps one dominant team can make over the others, drivers have been less able to influence the outcome of qualifying and, ergo, races. However, it seems that today Brawn and Red Bull are roughtly at parity. Which brings us to Button and Webber – when was the last time that both leading contenders for the WC were “good guys”? (My omission of Vettel & Rubens was a conscious one; they’re OK, but I don’t think either of them is in with a chance.) Quite different from the Massa v. Hamilton scraps of last year.

16
Racing Not Politics

As a neutral (McLaren fan) I hope the next few races don’t go Jenson’s way so that we have a terrific end of season…

As a Brit, I’d like to see Jenson win it by half a point from Weber.

17

Webber’s win was marvellous but let’s not compare him to Mansell – he’s no whiner and I can’t see him switching the engine off yards from the chequered flag. While we’re at it could we please drop the …esque-ing every driver. They are not like each other. One more “esque” out of Jake Humphrey and I’ll throw up.

Cheers,

Nic

18

I don’t think Webber’s drive was the best of the season considering he got a well deserved drive through and then only managed to win because Rubens had problems.

19

My money is on Jenson. I think he always interviews with openness and candour, I do not see it as a sign of weakness. It is amazing how quickly the media push the pendulum back in the opposite direction as soon as a driver or team experience a momentary hiccup. Jenson’s driving extremely well and the onboard footage of his start showed the skill with which he handled the opening laps. His early pass on Massa showed both great skill and measured aggression. He will be a very worthy champion I believe. Having said that I have become a much bigger Webber supporter this season and would be delighted to see him take the initiative away from Vettel who as you indicate has lots of time. Mark was very lucky at the start escaping from two incidents with no significant damage. It was too bad for Lewis Hamilton that Mark hit him because from Lewis’ onboard camera, it was pretty clear that without the tap from Webber he was in a position to get the car stopped and negotiate the first corner quite possibly in the lead. That would really have made for a great race and I hope he has a chance to shine in Hungary.

20

James:

I think the big advantage for Button is that he has established himself as the number 1 within Brawn. Whether Rubens likes it or not Button is getting more out of the car, is making fewer mistakes and has the points in the bank. Michael Schumacher showed the way to win a championship is to back one driver and Ross Brawn was obviously a big part of the thinking in that strategy.

He’s also still got a big points lead, which without one or two retirements is going to be very hard for the Red Bulls to overhaul. I think for these 2 reasons he is my tip for the WDC.

That said Red Bull do seem to have the best car on the grid at the moment. I really do think Webber will come out on top of Vettel through the second half of the season. The confidence, and release of pressure he will have got from that breakthrough win cannot be overstated. That coupled with his body healing bodes extremely well. The other thing not in question is that he is ferociously hungry for success.

It will be interesting to see how Vettel responds to his teammate’s fightback. We thought Webber had the ascendancy prior to Silverstone, then Webber had to win to save his season in Germany. He’s done that, and now the pressure is back on Vettel. He most certainly has the pace, but whether he can keep it all together to maintain that championship challenge remains to be seen.

I agree that any of the 3 would make a great ambassador for the sport, and we could really do with that now. I just hope that a dodgy stewards decision or something like that doesn’t settle it. Let’s all hope for hard, fair, and close racing.

21

The season has just taken a new twist in my opinion.

Just as you say James, McLaren and Ferrari have the oppurtunity to scupper plans for Brawn and Red Bull with their recent updates and KERS power. Plus, Rosberg feels Williams can get a podium or 2 very soon.

I still think overall that Button’s consistency and earlier wins stand him in good stead for the championship.

I think Webber will carry his momentum into Hungaroring but we’ll have to see if RBR can maintain their advantage over Brawn.

It will be interesting to see if Brawn’s problems aren’t just track/temperature related and that Red Bull truly have overtaken them in the development arm’s race.

By the way, how the hell did Kubica manage to come close to winning the opening race, and since then the BMWs have been poor in qualifying and the race. Kubica qualified in 5th without KERS and powered up to 3rd before his squabble with Vettel. Was that drive purely because of the tyres he had on his BMW?

22
Simon of Melbourne

I am honestly chuffed that Webber is in the midst of title discussions, and I truly believe we are about to witness something special towards the back end of the season. Come on Aussie!!!

23

hehe Webber unlocked a secret? It’s rather quite simple – If you have the best car on the grid on a given day, and your team mate has a bad race you might just win. It isn’t rocket science 🙂

24

I dont think Red Bull really gain anything from Jenson’s comments, everything he said can be learned from data or just from watching the guys in the pits. In any case it’s better than a script we would have gotten from McLaren.

You have to say Red Bull are looking good for the constructors right now, I think the driver’s is too close to call but I would like to see Jenson win, simply because I feel that this might be Brawn’s only chance for a championship, unlike Red Bull.

25

It should be button. With the nice cushion, and the godd reliability, it is very hard to to lose the championship. It is also helping in the driver’s title, that brown has a n-1 driver, and at red bull are taking points away from each other. The constructors championship should go to red bull, who should have taken both titles, if the regulation would have been made more clear.

26

“which one will it be?”

well I’m still confident Button can take it.

Brawn is far too canny to not have a decent upgrade ready for the car at this point in the season, I can see the Brawngp cars coming back at red bull the next couple races.

having said that, the point you made about the Ferrari and Maclaren is very valid, they can totally screw a race for any of the ‘proper’ front runners atm..

27

Which one will it be – Button for me. I think that the gap between Brawn and Red Bull has been exaggerated by cooler temperatures over the last couple of races, and whilst Red Bull are ahead, it is not by 4 tenths per lap (as it was in Silverstone and at the Nurburgring).

I think that, like the McLaren and Ferrari battles of the last 2 years, certain tracks will suit the Brawn and some the Red Bull. I think whilst the gap at the end of the season will be less than 21 points, Button will still win 2 or 3 more races – I think he’ll win in Hungary and Valencia, then perhaps Abu Dhabi where it will be scorching I would’ve thought.

Will it be a 3-way fight – yes, I think Rubens has alienated himself somewhat now and has shown his frustrations and let them get to him. Having said that, if he wins the next 2 races he’s right back in it.

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