Title Rivals tightly bunched around Webber the Gambler
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Title Rivals tightly bunched around Webber the Gambler
Strategy Briefing
Posted By: James Allen  |  04 Oct 2010   |  1:05 pm GMT  |  146 comments

This extraordinary championship has – hopefully – four more chapters in store for us.
The title is still Mark Webber’s to lose; he has the fastest car and a ten point advantage. He has also had a couple of slices of “champions’ luck” this year and he has shown a willingness to gamble, in which I’m very interested.

Photo: Darren Heath

Meanwhile Fernando Alonso is the man with the momentum. He and Ferrari are peaking at just the right moment. In the last five races Alonso has scored 93 points, Webber 74, Vettel 60, Hamilton 55 and Button 44.

Amazingly if you look at how things would stand under the old points system, Webber would have 80 points, Alonso 77, Hamilton 75, Vettel 74, Button 72, which is unprecedented.

If there is a problem with Korea and for any reason it isn’t possible to run the race, then it will hurt the McLaren drivers and Vettel the most as they need the maximum number of opportunities to score points.

But Webber also has to go out and take the initiative, he cannot simply hold on as Alonso is catching him too quickly for that.

Webber has put his trust in engineer Ciaron Pilbeam a few times this year (Photo: Red Bull)


What I’ve been interested in recently, has been Webber’s willingness to take risks with strategy. The more you have to lose, the harder it is to take a gamble.

In Hungary and particularly Singapore he went onto a different strategy from the others, one which required him to work hard. In Singapore he was obliged to do most of the race on a single set of tyres and to pass a few cars as well to make the strategy work and that is ambitious on a street circuit, however fast your car is.

He pulled it off – after questioning the strategy with his team at one point – and it brought him a podium, which was the height of his ambitions at Singapore, where he wasn’t really on the pace all weekend.

In Hungary Red Bull had a significant car advantage over the opposition, but by Singapore that had been largely eroded, possibly due to the more stringent FIA flexi tests.

Webber started fifth in Singapore but the early safety car presented his engineer with an idea. Believing that McLaren would struggle for pace on the option tyre during the opening stint, they brought Webber in to the pits on lap 3 under the safety car and put him on the harder prime tyre. This is the same medium compound tyre he used in Monaco and Budapest.

The objective was to take third place from Hamilton and the gamble relied on many of the cars in the midfield also pitting under the safety car, which luckily most of them did. The exceptions were Kobayashi and Glock. Meanwhile the cars immediately behind Webber on the road before his stop all continued – Rosberg, Kubica, Barrichello and Schumacher.

So Webber had lost six track positions, was behind one car from a new team and several drivers who are not easy to pass. He had to ensure that Hamilton did not get more than 27 seconds clear of him by the time of the McLaren pit stop, which turned out to be lap 28.

At the time it seemed quite a risky thing to do with a driver who is leading the world championship and Webber questioned it himself. There is always a risk inherent in any passing move, especially on street tracks where the corner angles tend to be tight, the kerbs are high and there isn’t much room.

By not taking the gamble, Webber would have finished fifth, which is 10 points, but the team believed that it could get him a third place, which is an extra 5 points. With Alonso in such challenging form, it was a gamble worth taking. Had he not taken it, he would now by just 6 points ahead of Alonso with four races remaining.

Passing cars was a pre-requisite, however and there’s a double risk here. You can collide -as Lewis Hamilton has done recently – or blocked. We’ve often seen fast cars get stuck behind slow ones on street tracks, the ultimate example being David Coulthard’s McLaren unable to pass Enrique Bernoldi’s Arrows at Monaco.

When Hamilton stopped on lap 28, for example, Kobayashi was 35 seconds behind, so had Webber not been able to pass the Sauber the strategy would have failed. Button would have stayed ahead and Rosberg would have undercut him for fifth place too.

Until lap 17 the hard tyres were significantly slower than the softs and Webber got stuck behind Barrichello, so Hamilton was able to pull away at over a second per lap. But after lap 17 the softs started to go off and the difference came down to more like half a second, which was more manageable and led to the gamble ultimately paying off. The gap peaked at 24 seconds on lap 23, but the McLarens stayed out too long trying to get the gap up to 27 seconds and it went down instead of up.

Gotcha! The gamble pays off and Webber jumps the McLarens


Interestingly Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Webber that they had considered making the strategy switch early on with Vettel, who was second, but decided to give it to Webber as he had potentially more to gain. It’s hard to see what Vettel might have gained from it as with Alonso running at the front, there is no way Vettel would have been able to undercut him on the slower hard tyres.

If Webber does win the title this year -and with Alonso on the rampage that is a big IF – then this gamble, the one in Hungary and the two occasions when he has hit another car and got away without damage (Singapore with Hamilton and Istanbul with Vettel) will have played a significant role in it.

As a side note, one could argue that Hamilton has been prepared to gamble recently with overtakes and has paid a heavy price. Without the gambles he would have scored a pair of fourth places, so they cost him 24 points, which would put him top of the table.

You need a bit of luck to be a champion and Webber seems to have been getting the rub of the green this season. Let’s hope for his sake that his luck holds, but he’s proven already the old cliche that fortune favours the brave.

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1

Hi James,

The gamble in Singapore was not worth it. If Webber had have stayed out on the track he may have been able to overtake Button and Hamilton on merit or on tyre strategy

The only reason the move payed dividends was that so many other drivers pitted during the SC period and Webber pulled off a few fantastic overtakes. And that Barrichello managed his tyres better than the McLarens and hence started to close in on them. If any one of those three aspects had failed, then Webber would probably have finished 6th, and if many other cars did not pit early, Webber may have even left Singapore with no points.

So on balance, not a risk worth taking, as he most likely would have finished 4th by following a conventional strategy, as he should have been able to pass Button on the track or via the pitstop due to his superior pace.

2

If he wins it… it will be his first championship win in car racing. As one who has followed him since he went to England, reading updates in Australian Motorsport News on his prospects, lack of money, borrowing money from David Campese (former Wallaby winger), knocking back a test contract with Arrows, flipping Mercedes’ in France, winning races in F3 and F3000… the prospect of him taking it this year is totally surreal. It’s as if all his good luck has come at once. I wonder if he thought it was possible, sitting in hospital last year with a busted leg? In any case, not bad for a guy who was delivering pizzas in Queanbeyan at an age when most of the grid were being ushered along nicely by sponsors. In a sense, he’s the last of the guys in F1 to really get there the hard way. This year has already been an epic. I can’t wait for the conclusion, and will be happy for whoever wins it, they’re all superb drivers.

3

Whatever happens, Flavio wins, as the current two drivers most likely to take the title are managed by him… Not sure if I like that though…

4

I think the Webber situation only reinforces how well the Brawn team performed down the stretch last year. The advantage which the Red Bull has had over the entire grid from the first race (excepting perhaps Canada and Monza) shows how hard it is to win the title even with the ‘fastest car’. The pressure is immense as no excuse will hold water, you are expected to put it on pole and drive off into the sunset. Brawn did that when they had the advantage (well at least one of the drivers at each race they had the advantage – just about) and Red Bull for whatever reason have not.

Let’s make no bones about the fact that most world champions have the fastest car and that does not make them any less deserving than any other world champion.

I also don’t think the Brawn had anywhere near the period of dominance the RBR car has had. As when the others had caught up the Brawn was probably the third or worse quickest car – as well as situations like Spa and Monza where people like Force India were immense. The RBR has at worst (other than Monza) been the second quickest car.

Interestingly the supposed achillies heel of the RBR was reliability, admittedly there have been a few issues, but not any more than the other top teams.

It is make or break this season, if neither RBR driver wins the title, Horner will be under a lot of pressure from above. Hopefully this does not lead to any cut back in funding or support, as having three high quality teams has really made the championship this year.

5

Mark deserves all he gets this year. He’s consistsntly had to suck eggs throughout his whole career, so I firmly believe he deserves his rub of the green this year. He has always consistantly burnt his teamate until vettel, and now although vettel is faster, he is giving him a lesson in race craft and how to pass(& grace) He’s always guarded his territory like a bull in years past, so it should be no surprise to vettel and Hamilton when they come up behind him now that he’s in a title fight up to his neck. I hope that he produces something special in the final races to put an exclamation point on what’s been a great season for f1. Win, lose or draw thanks mark, your fans have been waiting years for this

6

Someone probably has already mentioned it, but don’t forget the gamble in Qualifying for the Malaysian GP, that was another very brave move.

7

“-the two occasions when he has hit another car and got away without damage (Singapore with Hamilton and Istanbul with Vettel) will have played a significant role in it.”

Indeed but Webber didn’t hit either of them, Hamilton and Vettel hit him. A minor point maybe unless you’re filling in your accident insurance claim!

8

It takes two to hit

9

Indeed it does James. Webber was surely concious of what he was doing, and the risks he was taking. On the track it’s often about who refuses to be pushed around. And that can get a bloke into a difficult situation. It can also get him a place or two. Webber and Hamilton played a game of chicken. So did Webber and Vettel in Turkey, but I do believe Vettel thought Webber would simply capitulate. Big revelation for the German: Webber would like to win also!

Most accidents that are 50/50 are teststerone driven, I think. These blokes really do not like to give way.

Thanks for a good forum.

10

Not too long ago, couple of years back, he was considered by the folks at the Beeb as being F1’s unluckiest driver – he just couldn’t get a break.

Well, not anymore.

Fortune also favours a prepared mind.

11

Webber has been underperforming quite a bit the last few races.

He needs to change that trend otherwise he will not make it.

12

Really? What do you consider the last few races to be? The last 3 or 4?

* Except for Alonso, he has outscored all his title rivals in the last 3 and 4 races.

* He won in Hungary

* He put it on pole in Belgium, at a track that did not suit the Red Bull, and he brought it home in 2nd.

* Italy wasn’t a Red Bull track, and it wasn’t the best result for Mark. Still he got 6th, with 4th being the realistic best. He lost 4th due to a questionable pit call.

* Singapore he wasn’t hooked up all weekend. Yet he still managed to bring it home in 3rd.

He’s left a few points on the table in the last few race, but not many!

13

and may i add this. Whatever your opinion on the webber/hamilton accident in singapore is, how do u explain the hamilton/massa accident the race before? Dont we all have a short memory now hey. Dont get me wrong i think lewis is one of the best drivers of his generation but can he handle pressure like other drivers on the grid? All this mark webber bashing is uncalled for, its no fluke he is leading the championship and no one can deny him the position he is in, he works hard and reaps the rewards.

14

i think alot of people here need to understand the aussie mentality to understand mark webber. We dont sit there and consolidate, we go into every sporting event with an attacking mentality. We never die wondering. Let me ask you this, would christian horner trust seb on the stratagy and situation they put mark in at singapore? I doubt it. They would never trust him to have the maturity to pass the cars mark had to, to make it work. But they threw mark in the deep end (and not for the first time this season) cause they are confident he will put his head down and bum up and get the job done. Can i just make a casing point from another sport? The ashes 18 months ago the first test in wales. I have never seen a crowd so happy that their team has played for a draw, yet the aussies always play to win even if it means getting beat. Point being every aussie plays to win and not to draw or lose and mark webber is no different.

15

As an aussie who has lived in 5 different countries, I’m more and more embarrassed by (common) comments like this from other australians. Having some fight in you is human nature and NOT uniquely australian.

Broaden your horizons and open your eyes fellow aussies.

16

He never said it was UNIQUELY Australian. He said Australians have a mentality to be like that. You can be embarrassed about it all you like. I, for one, am proud of it.

17

Since mid-season, I’ve had new found respect for Mark Webber and backed him for the title. I’ve always been a die hard Alonso fan though, and now with Fernando on the warpath, I can’t quite help but feel an inclination towards him to win the championship. Although he (FA) has made a considerable amount of mistakes this year, he has more than made up for them and I think his previous experience of fighting for the title (’05-’07) would benefit him. The same could be said about Lewis Hamilton – he too has been outstanding.

My current beef with Mark is that he seems to be unable to maintain a consistent form: it’s either he has the momentum or he doesn’t. His damage limitation has also been a bit patchy. For someone with the fastest car, he seems to have made too many mistakes and cost himself a heft number of points. Sure, back in July or August it looked like it didn’t really matter. But now that the top 5 contenders have come within striking distance, I can’t help but feel he’s slowly beginning to pay for it.

18

he definitively need a much faster car than Alonso and Lewis to compete with them.

It seems he does not have it anymore.

19

Webber’s title to lose?! Last time I checked there was only a win covering the top 5 drivers, so I’d say that it’s well and truly up for grabs and may the best man win!

20

This is the order of how I think the last 4 races are going to go in my opinion.

Japan: 1. Red Bull 2. McLaren 3. Ferrari

Korea: 1. Red Bull 2. McLaren 3. Ferrari

Brazil: 1. McLaren 2. Red Bull 3. Ferrari

Abu Dhabi: 1. McLaren 2. Ferrari 3. Red Bull

I just get the feeling that Webber’s good luck is going to come to an abrupt halt, and Hamilton’s will have a change in luck for the better and he may win the championship.

21

Perhap’s that just a natural bodily function.

You don’t feel luck. You make it!

22

Not if he doesn’t get his head right, he won’t.

23

If Korea is cancelled Vettel, Hamilton and Button chances will evaporate.

Let’s hope not, but chances of Korea sounds rather slim from reports. Then it will kill the season that’s been historical.

Am strongly supporting Alonso, I still feel that Webber should win the WDC. As Alonso still holds the youngest double WDC, I’d say Webber has proved his worthiness this season.

Mark’s a good guy.

Vettel will surely be WDC sooner or later.

24

Wow, a lot of Hamilton fans digging the knife in to Webber. Of the 3 incidents he has been involved in I would say one was more his fault than the others and that was the one he could have paid the ultimate price for.

Webber is driving like this because it’s his last hurrah, he will not get this chance again and he knows it.

So good on him, he will keep taking his chances as he has nothing to loose.

25

I feel the championship might actually be Alonso’s to lose, but my heart is on Webber taking the title. The points gap is only 11, which (as a reference) is equivalent to only 4.4 under the old system. 4.4 with 4 races to go. That’s nothing!

I don’t think Red Bull have the car advantage they once enjoyed. Although I do expect them to dominate Suzuka (provided they aren’t mugged into the first corner). Ferrari have been strong for a while, and are finally getting the results with Alonso. Alonso is not in competition with his team mate at Ferrari. Meanwhile Red Bull are in no hurry to back one driver over the other, especially while Vettel trails Webber. This could be the difference in the end.

26

End of the day, Webber has had some luck but how many years of bad luck has he had to endure?

Under pressure he has been cool as a cucumber this year and that’s usually the guy who wins the title. Look at Kimi in 07 beating Hamilton to the finish line against the odds.

Webber has been fast, composed and reliable this year. Yes he’s had the fastest car, but he hasn’t had the team. How many points has Team Red Bull Vettel Racing taken off Webber this year? Quite a few. Consider also that Ferrari has been ALL about Alonso. Hell, Webber could have it sewn up if he had the team support Alonso has had!

I think it’s crucial Webber wins at Suzuka or at least collects a podium at worst.

27

As someone who often obsesses over ‘the numbers’, I have been running parallel ‘scores’ (old and new system) since very early in the season. The bottom line, as James points out, is that the present situation has absolutely nothing to do with the points system—under either system, we would have a very tight (less than one win between the 5 contenders) championship. At various points in the season, the lead would have been slightly different, but there has only ever been a couple of points in it at any stage. The current system does favour the winner, slightly, but this season the wins have effectively been spread out in such a way that no one has been able to take advantage of this. It should come as no surprise though that the two front runners are the two drivers with the most wins

The other thought I have had with respect to Webber’s ‘accidents’ is that these may well just be because very few of the other drivers, let alone the armchair critics, rated him at the beginning of the season, and people expected him to capitulate if he was pushed. But he didn’t, and there has been contact as a result. And sure, he has been seriously lucky in the event. But that’s not to say that he has been doing anything more than effectively saying “Hey guys, I’m serious here…” And if this causes any one of his immediate competitors to think twice before trying to ‘squeeze’ him in the last four races, I think his ‘play’ will have paid off.

28

Here’s a question, who thinks the 2010 World Title is the most valuable F1 title say maybe in the past 10 years? Given the fact that it’s being fought out between 5 drivers & it’s one of the closest ever, does that give it more value than say Schumacher’s World Title in 2004?

29

Of course. Not so much the 5 drivers, but the 3 cars being so close. Quite a few drivers could have won 2004 in MS’s car.

30

The 2010 World Title will be VALUABLE, MEMORABLE & HISTORICAL.

31

If Webber wins i wonder what the reaction will be in the TopGear Australia magazine office.

About two years ago they devoted a 2-3 page feature on why Webber was, in their opinion, crap.

Really, that was the entire story. Over multiple pages, detailing every mistake he ever made.

It was called Days of Blunder.

I remember reading it and thinking it was real tall poppy syndrome stuff.

Does anyone else remember seeing it? I sense some real humble pie on the horizon….

32

I’m very surprised to see that Skybet have Mark favourite, and Fernando only 3rd behind Lewis. My head says put the house on Fernando at these prices (but what do the bookies know that I don’t ?), but my heart says Webbo.

I wouldn’t describe his move in Singapore as a gamble – rather a clever reading of race possibilities. It stands out because so many of the teams have been so conservative lately. McLaren’s seeming unwillingness to try anything at all before anyone else has tried it almost cost Lewis victory at Spa, and gave Jenson no chance of a win at Monza.

And not only McL. I wrote on a blog here that I was staggered no team took a chance at Spa by coming in at the right time. Kubica could have won the race, and so could Webber. I can understand Webbo’s team hesitating with so many points to lose, but Kubica ? He’s not going to win the WC. Why not try something ?

Vettel’s side of Red Bull seemed transfixed by the Ferrari in Singapore. It was unlikely that they could have jumped it by staying out a bit longer, but they might have tried. What did they have to lose ?

Now Lewis, trying to pass Massa in Monza – that really was a gamble, the sort that loses championships.

33

The bookies know more Brits will have a punt on Hamilton than Alonso and so are stacking the odds accordingly. I don’t think many “impartial” people would reckon Hamilton has a better chance of winning the title than Alonso. I would also expect the Spanish bookies to have Alonso as the favourite.

34

James,

Considering how close the season is this year, and the final few races of last year. Do you think the FIA and FOTA have got it right with their ideas from the last few years, like the testing ban, control tyres, 8 engines, moveable front wings. Would like hear your thoughts on the reason we have 3 different cars capable of winning.

35

Thanks for reminding me of poor old Enrique Bernoldi!.

The race you`re referring to was the 2001 monaco Grand Prix. Coultard qualified on pole but screwed it up at the start of the warm up lap , so he had to start in last position, right behind the Brazilian who was driving the Arrows.

He justifiably defenended his position , Coultard was not good or brave enough to pass him.

I was`nt impressed by Ron Dennis saying after the race that he would make sure that Enrique would be driven out of F1 .

36

I agree that the strategy worked out well for him, but considering the risk-reward ratios it was the right call even if it could have ended differently in Singapore for instence.

Champions in any sport need a little fortune to pull it off when competition is at this level. I still feel he needs a couple of Monaco-like weekends to clinch it, as Alonso looks strong. Regarding the other 3 contenders, Button seems to be lacking a little performance and machinery, Vettel needs to prove that he can be consistent – it is not impressive to drive over the limit and have 1st or DNF/low score in every other race. As for Hamilton he is making big mistakes to often at the end of the season when the pressure is high – every year!

Some of the comments here about the titlecontenders are a bit harsh I feel. All have different strengths and weaknesses – one of the reasons for a 5 way title fight. Webber tends to make it difficult for himself when he has bad starts, but is consistent, quick and uses he`s head, much like Button.

Hamilton and Vettel are all-in drives that would benefit from some poker sessions with Kubica and Alonso, but they are still young.

Alonso is the most complete driver of the 5 and I think he might be favorite even with Webbers 12p lead.

Webber need nothing less than a 2nd at Japan, and must finish ahead of Alonso because the Ferraris will be tough to beat in Brasil and Abu Dabi. A Pole and a win(for Webo) would be a big blow for Vettel.

Tnx for the great articles, Im so honoured to be able to follow this WDC – the best since my parents got cable in 1989 🙂

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