Exclusive Webber Q&A: Ill be in perfect shape for Melbourne 10 Feb 2009
After several long months of recovery, Red Bulls Mark Webber plans to get back into a race car at this weeks Jerez test. Still limping slightly as he continues to recuperate after breaking his leg in November, the Australian is determined to find out how near he is to full fitness when he climbs into the newly-launched RB5 on Wednesday. His main target, however, remains Marchs season opener, at which he promises to be in perfect shape
Q: Mark, youre finally back at the track. Did you suffer any withdrawal symptoms over the long winter months whilst others tested?
Mark Webber: I was very happy to see that the weather was very bad in Portugal - that was very good. But honestly I knew that I was not ready to be back anyway. It was always scheduled that we would bring our new car out now, and I am very excited. Yet I am also a bit nervous, just like every year. But this year I feel it even more, as I have to see how my leg feels in the car, which Im going to test this week doing a few laps to see how it works, and if I am happy Ill do a bit more work. It should also be important for the team to get a second opinion on top of Sebastians (Vettel) words, to get two views on what we have. And then we will have a bit of a break, and when we go back to testing closer to the season start, I shall be in much better shape. This is a stepping stone towards Melbourne, and in Melbourne this leg will be able to do a Grand Prix!
Q: You have tried many therapies to get better, including that extreme chill room, the cryogenic chamber. Are you fit enough to get back into a Formula One car?
MW: There are some jockeys that usually have many fractures, and they use this chamber with very good results. We tried it on bigger bones as we had nothing to lose. Actually it was fine. I have been there a dozen times now. There is only one in the UK and the most beautiful thing is that it is just 10 minutes away from my house - it felt like they had built it just for me. On top of that, I was doing my usual swimming and my biking on the roll machine, trying to keep a good blood circulation. I had a small operation last Thursday to remove a small bolt off my leg and that went very well, but thats why I am limping a bit. Last week I was better, but this last small operation will help me to be in perfect shape in Melbourne.
Q: Have you been cleared to get back into a race car?
MW: Well, the only way that we will find out is when I drive. And for a normal test situation I should be fine. I was tested in Melbourne to see if I can get into a car in seven seconds, and did all the normal tests that you have to do when you prepare for your first race. And I have passed all those tests without any problems.
Q: How did you keep up with the development of the RB5? Did you visit the factory frequently? And now that the covers are off the car, whats your impression?
MW: I didnt go to the factory at all but stayed in touch a bit over the phone. They have let me concentrate on my job and I let them concentrate on their job. Thats the way it has been. Now that the car is running, it obviously gets a bit more intense.
Q: Since the last time you were in the car, changes have come thick and fast: Hondas withdrawal, dramatic cost cuts, technical developments like KERS, a ban on in-season testing. Whats your stance on all these developments?
MW: Honda was great for our sport - they are a great company and now we no longer have them, it is sad. But what I admire with Honda: they made a clean decision. But sure it was not good for Formula One as they have been great people to have around. Its a shame!
(Regarding cost cuts) I was always a bit surprised when you get to Formula One and you see 800 people working on two cars, so the time eventually has come to lose a little bit of that. The pinnacle of Formula One and the race against each other has always been very high. So the expenses are also racing against each other. I think now for the first time all the teams are working and talking together about how they can save each others bacon and how they can help the sport.
(Regarding KERS) With all the money that it costs and the fact that nobody really knows how it works, KERS doesnt really fit with the mentality of the moment. As one of the taller and heavier drivers I would like to be lighter, but I weigh 75 kilos and I cannot lose any more weight. That is how Ive been all my career. I cannot lose one and a half kilos, maybe a kilo maximum, but I think even that would compromise my performance. Thats the way it is. Regarding safety, the team has explained to me that KERS should be reasonably safe, but naturally if you bring something that is so new there are always question marks. There are questions that have to be answered and I hope that they are answered in a safe way. It was interesting to read that the mechanics and the marshals need special gloves but if we drivers stop on the track we just have our normal race gear - what do we do? I think the good news is that all the teams and the governing body are all working very closely together to make it as safe as possible and that nobody is getting any stupid injuries.
(Regarding the in-season test ban) That is extreme! But then again, why not. When I joined Formula One there were three-car tests - for four days! That was a lot of expense and money for everybody. But now it is the same for all of us, which means that a lot of work involves going back to the factory to learn and understand the car away from the track. I always enjoy driving the car, so testing always felt good, but nothing compares to a race weekend, so we will have to be very good on Friday and Saturday to have a competitive car on Sunday. Being aware that you have to get it right at the very start of the season, as there is no room for major developments in the season, everybody seems to be very nervous - at least that is my impression.
Q: You said that your new team mate Sebastian Vettel will put pressure on the team. Does that include yourself?
MW: I put pressure on the team. I think in a competitive team everyone puts pressure on each other. In every team Ive been driving so far, I tried to get them to work in the right direction. Collectively we all work in a very tense environment - its not a holiday camp! So we need to get the most out of it and if we can push each other to do a better job, then fine.
Q: Red Bulls engine supplier, Renault, will benefit from a partial engine defreeze this season. Will that help you?
MW: I hope so. It was another good sign for the sport that the other teams agree that another competitor should get more performance. The FIA worked very hard with acoustic overlays to find out exactly whose engine is doing what. We have an extremely good relationship with Renault and I really hope that the changes to the engine will work well for us this year.
Q: What are your objectives for this season? You left Williams disappointed, but after moving to Red Bull you are still waiting for your first race win
MW: I hope we have a chance to win some races. I would like to do that - to really have a massively rewarding season, for Red Bull and Dietrich (Mateschitz), for what they have done for Formula One, to push a team to be able to compete at this level. I hope that I can contribute to some very good results this year.
Q: Looking at the results over recent years, it seems that only drivers driving for a manufacturer team have a consistent chance to win races. Does that play a factor in the planning of your future?
MW: Consistently winning does, yes. And never say never - you never know what the situation will be in 12 months time. The fact is that I am happy to be with Red Bull Racing - their style changed the climate in the paddock forever.
Q: Over those long months of recovery you must have followed the development of the other teams cars. Who is your hottest candidate for race wins?
MW: BMW obviously - they are really trying like hell to get results this season. And of course the usual suspects, although with all these changes this year everything has become a bit more unpredictable.