Webber: Stronger first stint vital
Mark Webber thinks that a better performance in qualifying and a stronger opening stint to races are key to getting himself back to the front of the grid in Formula 1.
The Australian is still chasing his first win of the campaign, with just two grands prix remaining on the calendar, but believes he understands just where he is lacking compared to runaway world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
Although the suspicion earlier this year was that Webber was struggling to get to grips with the new Pirelli rubber, the Red Bull Racing driver reckons that his overall situation is hurt more by being too far down the order in the early stages of the races.
In an interview with Italian magazine Autosprint talking about if his problems have been in adapting to tyres, Webber said: "It has a bit to do with that, with the difficulty in making the tyres work. But it's most of all down to the fact that I always leave too much to do for the final part of the race.
"Instead, the first stint from the race start to the first pit stop is still very important, almost as much as it was in previous years. With the difference that, when we had in-race refuelling, you could be flexible with strategies, going from one stop to two or the other way around.
"Nowadays it's practically all decided from the outset, especially if you race for the top four positions. Obviously you can do a catch-up race, like Jenson has done, as I've done too.
"But in general, the three at the front do the same things in the race, covering for the others' strategies. When your rivals pit, you pit too. If instead you get left behind and need to fight to catch up, the tyres degrade quickly. In practice, I've never done enough in the first part of the race."
Webber believes that his situation is in complete contrast to Vettel, who has been very strong in qualifying and controlled almost all grands prix from the front this year.
"At the beginning of the season I clearly had also some reliability problems that don't help. I'm happy with some things, but I've never reached last year's level, most of all because I couldn't position myself in the right place in the early laps. Also because I don't manage to be quick enough in qualifying.
"Seb is exactly the opposite from me: very strong in qualifying on Saturday, very strong in the first part of the race, when he gives his best. After that, there's not much else to do."
Although Webber is hoping that the ban on blown diffusers in 2011 will help him gain his confidence back, he says he is not going to hold out hope that things will definitely change next year.
"The cars are very different. That's why I hope, cross fingers, that next year, with the ban of exhausts in the diffusers.." he explained. "Sometimes I would tell myself: what the hell is going on, the tiniest thing makes the car go one way or the other.
"But I don't want to live in the hope, it doesn't lead you anywhere. I need to work hard to come back strong next year. In the first part of the season I had difficulties with pit stops, while now I don't, but I still can't find a good race pace. It's like a puzzle: the next move is to fix the early part of the race. Then we're back in business."