Soaring to New Heights

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Mark Webber and Red Bull Racing Have A Championship In Their Sights

Despite being at or near the lead all season, Webber has resisted adopting a frontrunner mentality.

Mark Webber and Red Bull have been flying this season. Flying in the sense that Webber and his teammate Sebastian Vettel have had the fastest car in the Formula One field – the Red Bull RB6 inspired by technical guru Adrian Newey which has allowed them to soar to victories.

And there was one spectacular and frightening time when Webber went flying, literally, as his car did a high aerial somersault after slamming into the back of Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus during the European Grand Prix in the streets of Valencia.

“The Lotus braked about half a kilometer earlier than Mark was expecting him to,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner commented dryly. “The closing speed on the cars is just so great. It is difficult to blame Heikki because he is doing his best in a difficult car. But he was in the middle of the road and it wasn’t obvious whether he was going to the left or right. The point at which he braked took Mark completely by surprise, being so, so early.”

Actually, Kovalainen braked about 80 metres before Webber’s braking point. Webber was traveling at about 310 km/h when his car took to the sky after ramping off the Lotus. He somersaulted and hit the track upside down. The car flipped upright and slid at high speed across a runoff area before slamming into the tire barrier.

After spending years with underfunded teams and inferior equipment, Webber has finally enjoyed the benefits of racing with top-notch equipment over the past two seasons.“The initial impact was not too hard,” Webber told PRN shortly after the accident of his upside down contact with the track.” It was okay because I had a massive forward momentum, so that was good because I didn’t go up and come back down; I was still in a big forward momentum.”

Once he was sliding along the road, was that the moment he realized that it would be okay?

“Pretty much, yeah,” Webber replied, “because I was worried about any bridges or things that I could hit in the air because I knew I was a long way up.”

Webber has been through these aerial acrobatics before with his two soaring accidents in the Mercedes at Le Mans in 1999.

“Similar speed, similar sensation,” he said. “It is not where racing cars are supposed to be, so that is the big concern for the driver.”

It has been over a decade since Webber had an aerobatic race car. It has also been almost that long since he had a winning race car. Webber had success in prototype sports cars in 1998, and he won races in Formula 3000 in 2000 and 2001. He graduated to F1 in 2002, driving for the small and underfunded Minardi team. In subsequent years with Jaguar, Williams and Red Bull he never had a car to match his talent. But that finally changed last year when Red Bull finally came up with the goods and he won his first grand prix, in Germany, and followed that up with a victory in Brazil.

This year Webber really has been flying. Victories in Spain, Monaco, England and Hungary along with points in all but two races, meant that after 17 of 19 events Webber trailed Fernando Alonso in the world championship by a mere 11 points.
Sebastien Vettel.“I’m not the championship favorite,” he insisted with three races to go in the season. “I think we’re all pretty even. It can change pretty quickly – in a good way or a bad way for me. It’s on a knife-edge but I’m very relaxed. I’ll leave no change on the table and do the best I can. The points will look after themselves. You need to be leading the championship at the last race, not now.”

Vettel has had his woes this season with mechanical failures and driving errors. He’s shrugged off any outside criticism and pressure.

“I know why I am here,” he said. “I want to win races and I want to win the title. If there is anyone putting pressure on me it is me. It is a long season with some ups and downs, and everybody makes mistakes. In the end you have to make sure you are the one who does the least mistakes.”

Unlike many seasons when the championship evolves into a duel between two drivers, this year it’s turned into a magnificent five-way battle between the Red Bull duo of Webber and Vettel, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and McLaren Mercedes teammates Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

Red Bull’s Horner has nothing but praise for his two drivers.

“We are fortunate in the team to have two level-headed and strong-willed drivers,” he enthused. “And while that inevitably poses challenges at times – it is a luxury problem to have. I am delighted with the performance of the two drivers.

“One of Sebastian’s strength of character is the self-belief that he has. Mark has had so much bad luck in his career that he is due a bit of good fortune. A couple of things have gone his way this year, which has been great for him.”

The Newey Factory

Formula One cars designed under the auspices of Adrian Newey have been winning championships and grands prix races for three decades. Newey has also penned winning Indy and prototype sports cars. During the past two seasons Webber and Vettel have been adding to the impressive totals in Newey’s sleek Red Bulls.

Newey is one of the true legends of motor racing. His quiet, unassuming manner, coupled with a keen sense of humor, might mask his genius, but the wins and championships and sheer speed achieved by his cars on the race track speak for themselves.

Newey won world championships with Nigel Mansell, Alain Prost, Damon Hill, Jacques Villeneuve and Mika Hakkinen, and he’s worked with many top notch drivers. What does he think of Red Bull’s current duos’ speed, attitude and technical feedback?

“I have tremendous respect for both,” he told PRN. “First of all, they both push each other, which is always a good start with teammates. It can be a bit too much, as we’ve seen! They do push each other in terms of how they perform. And they bring different things in terms of their feedback. Mark is very sensitive in some areas, Sebastian is sensitive in others, and that gives us two things to look at.

With two races left, Red Bull drivers have earned a combined 7 wins, the most for any team in 2010.“But their driving technique is sufficiently similar that it doesn’t give us the headache of having to try to develop the car differently for the two of them.”

Yes, as we’ve seen, Webber and Vettel pushed things too far in Turkey when the collided while battling for the lead. It’s not the first time Newey has seen his drivers collide. What goes through his mind when he sees his finely prepared machines shunting into each other?

“Kids!” he laughed. “It is obviously the worst outcome for a team: to have the two drivers have each other off. Unfortunately it is a fact of racing. I’d always say that we should let our drivers race. It is unfair not to do so. But in saying that, there is always the risk that that will happen. Every team that operates with equal drivers…there is that danger.

It happened at Williams, it happened at McLaren, and it has happened with us. It will happen with other teams in the future.”

Red Bull’s car development rate has been relentless this season. New bits, parts and aerodynamic tweaks appear at every race. Newey estimates that if the team took the RB6 back to Bahrain, which held the first race of the year, it would be over half a second quicker than it was back in March.

As chief technical officer, Newey gets [and deserves] a lot of the credit for what Red Bull has achieved. But it is a team effort with over 500 people contributing to the success including chief designer Rob Marshall, head of aerodynamics Peter Prodromou, head of race engineering Ian Morgan, chief engineer/vehicle mechanics Mark Ellis plus Guillaume Rocquelin and Ciaron Pilbeam, the race engineers for Vettel and Webber.

“I still spend about 50 percent of my time at the drawing board, and the rest working with my colleagues,” Newey said. “And that has been the same throughout. The big difference compared to McLaren and Williams is that now, with [team principal] Christian [Horner], we are trying to set the tone of how the organization grows and how we go about things – our modus operandi – because we are a young team and we’ve had to develop that. Whereas Williams and McLaren obviously were very well established teams long before I joined them and that side of the company was all done.”

Newey must be the last person in a F1 design office who still uses an old-fashioned drawing board rather than a computer to map out his ideas. Along with Ross Brawn, he is one of the few remaining old fashioned technical directors who oversees the entire car design. Newey calls himself a “dinosaur.” Having designed some of the best cars ever to grace a F1 grid [and occasionally driven them] he has to be the fastest dinosaur in the history of the motor racing.

A Big Success Story

Red Bull’s roots go back to 1997 when Jackie and Paul Stewart founded their F1 team which went on to become Jaguar from 2000 to 2004 and then Red Bull when the energy drink magnate Dietrich Mateschitz bought it from Ford in 2005. In 2009 and 2010 Red Bull has been a championship contender.

“We have worked hard to get ourselves in this position,” Horner said. “It’s a remarkable story of what we’ve achieved in only six seasons, which is what people easily forget. But we are not here by accident. There is a very strong desire and belief within the team.”

Regardless of whether they win the championship or not, Red Bull, Webber and Vettel have been one of the big success stories of this F1 season. They have been flying high.


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