Webber staying on: The possible consequences

 

The news that Mark Webber has signed a contact extension with Red Bull for the 2013 season will see the 35-year-old Australian carry on with the team for a seventh consecutive season. The new deal comes off the back of a weekend where Webber took his second victory of the season and closed the gap to Fernando Alonso in the drivers standings. Not only did he close the gap at the top, his second visit to the top step also extended the gap back to team mate Sebastian Vettel out to 16 points. This season would appear to be the one which presents Webber with his best chance yet of taking that first elusive World Driver's Championship. We've had seven different winners out of the first nine races; as well as eleven different drivers having visited the podium since the season started. It's been the most open championship I can personally remember. With Webber having already taken two victories and being in probably the fastest car currently on the grid, the Australian will surely want to take the momentum from Silverstone into the second half of the season and mount a serious title push. He's been largely overshadowed by his younger German team mate the past two seasons, but from what he's shown in the opening nine races this time round Webber appears to have upped his game, especially against Vettel.

So, what ramifications could Webber's new deal have on the rest of the paddock? Red Bull are the first team to announce their 2013 driver line up, which will see Webber and Vettel partner up for a fifth consecutive season. Mark has admitted he held talks with Ferrari, but that the decision to stay with Red Bull was an easy one. Personally I think he's made the right choice. He's well liked, respected and established within the Red Bull family and a move away may not have necessarily been a wise choice. Ferrari is very much Alonso's team and is the clear number one driver. Would Webber have liked that? Who knows. It's no secret that the relationship between Webber and Vettel is not the strongest amongst team mates in the paddock, but he's been there a long time and clearly he likes being there; and the team like him being there too. Christian Horner was clearly delighted that Webber has chosen to stay on with his team.

The talks with Ferrari will only help fuel speculation that Felipe Massa will not be retained by the Italian giants come the end of the season. Felipe has struggled to recreate his form from back in the 2008 season and his position has been under threat for some time. Since Monaco though, Massa has shown signs of improvement. The improvement in performance and results come at the same time as the car itself is getting better, which is normally what you'd expect to happen. What's worked against Massa though is the outstanding performances put in by team mate Alonso. Massa sits down in 13th place with just 26 points to his name; while Alonso is top of the standings with 129. Massa's performance this past weekend at Silverstone was great and encouraging to see. Finishing just 5 seconds behind Sebastian Vettel and less than 10 behind winner Webber, Massa showed signs that he's getting back to his best. He ran with consistent pace throughout the race and overtook when he had to (Schumacher early on in the race). The Ferrari management will have been expecting to see this from Felipe and thankfully he's delivered. He's well liked in the team, in the paddock, by the media and by the fans. He's one of Formula 1's good guys. He's not only a good a guy, but a quick good guy at that. The news of Webber staying at Red Bull is surely good news for Massa and his pursuit of staying with Ferrari for the 2013 season.

The news of a new deal may also be good for the two Toro Rosso drivers. The team is essentially there to provide Red Bull with the next big stars in Formula 1; the most successful clearly being Sebastian Vettel. The 2012 season started well for Toro Rosso with Daniel Ricciardo taking a 9th place at his home race in Australia; and Jean-Eric Vergne following up with an 8th place in Malaysia the following weekend. Things have however dropped off since then and the team haven't scored a point since Malaysia. The car now appears to firmly be the eighth fastest car on the grid and dropping back from the likes of Sauber, Williams and Force India. This lack of pace in the car isn't allowing the two young drivers show off their undoubted talent. Red Bull clearly think a lot to the pair (if they didn't they wouldn't have got this far, as others have had sponsorship cut for underperforming) and this is the season in which one or both of them needs to step up and show that they can make the step up to the main team. A lot is expected of Vergne in particular, after arriving into Formula 1 at an incredibly young age with a big reputation for winning (2010 Formula 3 champion and 2011 Formula Renault Series runner up).

With Webber staying on for another season, the team's two driver spots are already taken for the 2013 season. This should allow for Ricciardo and Vergne to spend not only this season, but the next as well in the Toro Rosso team. The pairing of Alguersuari and Buemi were given two years to try and prove themselves worthy of stepping up to partner Vettel. They unfortunately couldn't do this and were instead replaced by Ricciardo and Vergne. Red Bull even paid for Ricciardo to secure a drive in the HRT team for the second half of the 2011 season. They clearly think a lot of these two, but that will only get them so far. They need to start turning in the kinds of performances that Alguersuari and Buemi were putting in last season before doubts are cast on them. They appear to be very evenly matched, and with it only looking like there will only be one spot up for grabs at Red Bull, one of the two really needs to put in some strong showings to show Horner and the team that they deserve that drive. It's impossible to say at this moment in time which one will be the one, if indeed either of them are, to step up. Vergne's qualifying has been less than impressive so far, with him dropping out in Q1 more than any other driver (outside of the bottom three teams). The car at the moment is holding them back, but from what I saw this past weekend at Silverstone, the two are extremely evenly matched. They virtually mirrored each other during the race but again came home with no points. Some serious upgrades appear necessary to enable the two to move back into a points scoring finish again, but with Webber's contact extension the pair should have at least another season to prove their credentials.

Webber's new deal also takes away another possibility for Lewis Hamilton; although the chances of him switching to Red Bull were always slim at best. Lewis appears certain to sign a new contact at his beloved McLaren which makes sense for all parties concerned. McLaren are a top team and although they're struggling at the minute, they have as good a chance as anyone of turning it around and still mounting a title challenge. I'm sure Lewis will sign soon to end the speculation.

The new contract is great news for Webber and will hopefully fill him with the confidence to go on and push hard for the Driver's Championship. He's had a very consistent nine races, taking two wins and sits second in the standings just 13 points behind Fernando Alonso. Could this be his year? It's certainly his best chance so far. As his Twitter name says, he's an Aussie with plenty of 'grit'. Can that grit take him to the championship come the finale in Brazil?

Top Drivers

 
Driver Points
Hamilton 252
Rosberg 211
Vettel 203
Raikkonen 107
Bottas 101
Massa 97
 

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