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Sky Sports F1's Commentary Expert Mark Hughes on the contrasting support provided by Mark Webber and Felipe Massa in Brazil
By Mark Hughes. Last Updated: 27/11/12 9:08am
Could there have been a starker contrast in the manner of team-mate support given to each of the title contenders in Brazil on Sunday?
Both Felipe Massa and Mark Webber out-qualified their title-contending team-mates but in the race Massa was compliant with Fernando Alonso, Webber downright combative with Sebastian Vettel.
Both have been final round championship contenders themselves. In Webber's case though, his team-mate Vettel was also a contender that evening at Abu Dhabi 2010 - so there could be no team priority to Webber's campaign then. In the case of Massa in Brazil 2008, his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen was not in contention and Ferrari's whole weekend was based around Massa, with Kimi in support. So it might be imagined that they each feel differently disposed to their respective teams when called to provide a role of support.
But it's more than that; it's about the respective personalities of those people and teams, and it's a great illustration of how human dynamics define how things work far more than team structures and policies.
It was Webber's fighting out turn one between Alonso and Vettel that squeezed Seb to the inside - and forced him to lift, losing him several places, which in turn is what was put him where he was down to turn four when he clashed with Bruno Senna. Vettel didn't appear to be angry about it in the aftermath as he could afford to be magnanimous - but he certainly wasn't shy of pointing it out. "I was side-by-side with Mark and he squeezed me to the inside, so your angle for turn one becomes worse and worse.
It's very easy if you try to be stubborn and fight until the apex that everyone just keeps turning in and you are the one parked on the apex and you lose your front wing so I had to back off, obviously slow down a lot, go down to first gear, everyone around the outside used that momentum, and I lost a lot of positions."
It was a similar story on the safety car restart, as Vettel in his crippled car had to fend off not only Kamui Kobayashi's Sauber into the first turn - but also Webber! Earlier in the race though, as Vettel had rejoined from a tyre stop, Webber complied to team instructions and pulled aside for him. But given a free hand, Webber will always compete with Vettel. In no way does he accept that he's a number two driver - and it's that which makes him such a formidable asset to the team when that belief is directed to beating the competition.
Bear in mind that Alonso lost the title to Vettel by three points on Sunday - then think about the seven points Webber took off Alonso by tracking him down and overtaking to win the British Grand Prix. Two sides of the same coin; with Webber you get a fiercely competitive, independent animal and trying to impose compliance on him is not going to work.
Massa is forever cast as the grateful protégé at Ferrari. As he himself says, without Ferrari he would never have made it to F1. That debt seems to still be felt by him despite all the subsequent success. Then there's the emotion surrounding his near-fatal accident at Hungary 2009 and the support the team gave in his recovery.
He was then pitched against as domineering a team-mate as Alonso. Dealing with that together with the notoriously slow full recovery from any injuries associated with the brain would be intensely difficult - and so it has proved for much of the last three seasons. Massa's performances have not really justified his place there during that time. But since Suzuka, this is a driver reborn, driving with all the flair and panache of his pre-accident days. He's now out-paced Alonso in each of the last two races - and has only finished behind through his support of Alonso's title campaign.
There's no denying that Massa was much more of an asset to Ferrari on Sunday than Webber was to Red Bull. But stepping back to look at the bigger picture, Webber has served his team brilliantly this year.