Mixed emotions for Mark Webber
Whilst Webber's role at Red Bull is now clear for the rest of 2012, Mark Hughes says it must "hurt like hell" not being able to challenge Sebastian Vettel.
By Mark Hughes
Last Updated: 31/10/12 11:47am
Mark Webber's desperate struggle in his KERS-less Red Bull to hold off the relentless Fernando Alonso for second place in India highlights the difficult task he faces as his team-mate Sebastian Vettel now assumes the definitive status of the team's title chaser.
Even if Webber won all three remaining races and Vettel retired from them all, it would put Mark only two points ahead. Realistically, from Mark's perspective it's over for this year. His task is now to limit Alonso's points haul.
But for someone of his intensely competitive disposition, that task is surely slightly distasteful. His season might have taken on an entirely different complexion without the sequence of mid-season mechanical problems, but now he has to be bystander in a title fight that could result in his team-mate having taken three consecutive World Championships during which time Mark has won a few grands prix by comparison.
Furthermore, his respect and admiration for Alonso is higher than that for Vettel and it was noticeable in the body language between the three of them backstage before the podium that Mark and Seb have a courteous, professional relationship but nothing more than that, while Fernando and Mark are old friends. They sat there chatting as the victorious Seb stood to one side, uninvolved.
Go back six years to Monza '06 when Alonso (then driving for Renault) was given a highly controversial penalty for supposedly baulking the Ferrari of Felipe Massa in qualifying when Alonso was in the midst of a title battle with Ferrari's Michael Schumacher. Webber - then driving for Williams - was almost as outraged at the situation as Alonso and offered him his full support. It was noticeable in that race that as Schumacher came to lap Webber, he opted instead to make his pit stop a little earlier than planned, Michael apparently uncertain as to what Webber's support of his rival might entail. Whatever it might have been, Schumacher wasn't prepared to risk it.
Webber is professional enough to ensure he does the best job possible for the team in the remaining races regardless of any personal loyalties and many of F1's closest wheel-to-wheel racing over the last few years has been between him and Alonso - beginning at Bahrain '04 when Webber gave Alonso a late chop into turn 11, through Suzuka '05 when they were so close racing up to turn one late in the race that Alonso was on the grass getting wheelspin in seventh gear, right the way up to Webber's stunning pass on Alonso at Eau Rouge last year. There have been many more besides and the pair race each other with total trust but scary commitment.
But a racing driver's psyche is a complex thing and inevitably one wonders about the effects of the sub-conscious. Was that conflict, for example a significant backdrop to his starts in each of the last two races - or has it just been very subtle team driving? In Korea, from pole, he was slower off the line and Vettel was into the lead even before turn one. Later analysis showed that Mark was just a little less smooth in releasing the paddle when going to the 'second clutch' (the clutches have two-part releases), and that was enough to trigger the wheelspin that slowed him. On Sunday his getaway was better than Vettel's and it did rather look as if Webber could have slugged turn one out with him, but chose instead to line himself up behind.
Whatever, his role now is at least less ambiguous. In one sense that will be a relief for him; in another it probably hurts like hell.