Do Red Bull hate Mark Webber?
Okay, that’s probably a bit harsh, but surely Webber must be asking himself why all of the team’s misfortune seems to be landing at his doorstep. To have it happen once is just a fact of racing, twice is unfortunate but three times smacks of carelessness.
You get the impression that if Red Bull engineers were to give Webber a goldfish this year, it would probably end up drowning.
The disparity between Webber’s performance and that of his teammate, Sebastian Vettel, seems too great to be put down to differences in skill. That’s not to suggest that the two are equals, particularly when it comes to qualifying, but the difference isn't as great as this year's performance would seem to to imply.
In 2010, Vettel secured 10 pole positions. Webber got five.When it came to racing, however, the pair were closer. Vettel took five races to Webber’s four and the pair finished the season only 14 points apart.
Something has changed in 2011. Sure, Vettel is world champion and is a year older and wiser and Webber, at 34, is possibly marginally past his peak, but there is more at play.
Vettel has cruised through the year without incident. Yes, the KERS system was disabled on both Red Bull’s at the first race in Australia, but Vettel cruised through to a comfortable win, whereas Webber fought the car from start to finish.
Postrace investigations at first indicated a possible problem with Webber’s chassis, before a damaged rear damper was officially fingered as the culprit.
In Malaysia, Webber’s KERS again failed, but this time waited until the warm-up lap before falling in a hole. Vettel was told to stop using his later in the race as a precautionary measure, but he had enjoyed the boost at the crucial times, particularly at the start of the race and after pit stops.
Despite that, Webber still managed a very creditable fourth place sending the message that he’s still got what it takes.
Now we have China. Vettel’s car has again performed flawlessly, while Webber’s KERS again died in the second practice session and he was only able to put down one lap in P3. Are you beginning to see a pattern?
Despite having a whole day to fix the problem, it wasn’t available for Webber to use in qualifying and, as a consequence of that and the perhaps unwise decision not to use the softer tyre, he was eliminated in the first qualifying session.
Red Bull maintains—as they always have—that the team does not play favourites. Of course, we won’t bring up Helmut Marko’s laying the blame for last year’s Istanbul collision at the feet of Webber, despite every rational F1 fan being able to see that it was Vettel who veered into Webber’s car.
And we won’t mention the fact that the team took the newly developed front wing from Webber’s car at Silverstone last year and gave it to Vettel after the German’s wing failed during practice, prompting Webber to deliver his infamous, “Not bad for a No. 2 driver,” jibe at the team.
Surely KERS isn’t that far beyond the ability of the folks in the Red Bull engineering department. It’s technology that has been in use on road cars for over a decade—okay it’s not quite the same, but teams have had since 2009 to get it right.
Besides, they've managed to make it work in the car with the No. 1 on the nose.
Perhaps this is all just a series of unfortunate coincidences and things will all turn around when the circus rolls in to Turkey next month.
Then again, it might not.