On the eve of a race that could see him take a significant step closer towards clinching the coveted F1 2010 World Championship crown, Mark Webber has claimed that far from weakening his bid for glory, the sometimes prickly 'chemistry' at Red Bull Racing this year has if anything made him even stronger.
There have been times this season – Istanbul and Silverstone spring most prominently to mind – when it has appeared that whilst Red Bull is keen for one of its two drivers to lift the ultimate laurels, it would be rather happier if that driver was the German one rather than the Australian.
Some have pointed to the continuing insistence that there will be no favouritism over the final three races despite Webber's 14-point margin over team-mate Sebastian Vettel in the standings as evidence that the team is willing to do almost anything to ensure that it is the favourite son who triumphs, but the New South Wales native assures that such adversity has only served to help him to blossom.
“The team chemistry – obviously we've had a few little bobbles here and there – but with adversity people learn a lot about themselves as well,” he opined. “There has been some good stuff from our team and also from myself in terms of learning about the sport, and it's been good. Clearly it's been my best season to-date, so I'm happy with it so far.
“To be leading the championship is obviously the highest position you can be in with three races to go, but we know what level of competition we have. We totally respect our rivals and they're great operations, so that's why you need to keep your goals in-check but on the same side be optimistic and positive and well-driven within yourself that you can achieve great things. Clearly Fernando [Alonso] has achieved more things in the past, but for me this year has been an incredible season, a real highlight with many special victories and a lot of races which I have really, really enjoyed.”
Pressed about the sometimes fraught internecine rivalry between himself and Vettel – which really came to a head in the aforementioned instances in Turkey and Britain, with an acrimonious on-track collision in Istanbul – Webber went on to deflect suggestions that the pair's squabbling and red Bull's insistence on equal treatment could end up handing the title to a rival from a different team, as happened with Alonso and Lewis Hamilton at McLaren-Mercedes in 2007, to the benefit of Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen.
Whilst he knows he cannot afford to make any mistakes and to that end needs to remain on his guard, the man from Queanbeyan is adamant that he still needs to aim to win races, and as such will not be tempering his famously uncompromising style or gift any presents to any of his adversaries.
“For sure the Spanish probably want this,” he quipped, alluding to the fact that it is Alonso who currently sits poised to take full advantage of an RBR own-goal. “No-one knows what's going to happen in the next three races, nobody. We can talk for hours about what we're going to do, what's going to happen, this and that, upside down, inside out – but no-one knows, so we're going to go out there and do our stuff.
“Clearly Seb and I have had a good season. We're both in with a chance of doing quite well in the championship, and also the team is doing well in the constructors', because both of us obviously are getting quite a few points. If there's a point, in the future, where we have to race each other again then we will do what we always do – and that's obviously try to get the best result out of whatever situation we have.
“Irrespective of whether I'm racing Fernando or JB (Jenson Button) or Lewis or Seb is that I know I need to finish races; all of us know that, so that's always in the front of your mind, but you're not going to give positions up either, so it's always a balancing act. That's what it comes down to – the racing. All the other stuff isn't important.
“It's ridiculous to start calculating things, because a lot of things can happen. [If] I win the next two races, it's all over anyway, but this is another event, another race here and [I need to] keep doing what I'm doing. The gap has been edging away, the right way, in the last few races. If we just keep doing our best, that's the most important thing. I'm doing my best, and then hopefully the result will take care of itself.”
Having been the very model of consistency since the mid-summer break but without a victory to his name since the Hungaroring back in late July, Webber is palpably eager to regain the top step of the podium in this weekend's inaugural Korean Grand Prix – and topping the timesheets at the end of Friday practice was an encouraging way to begin. The 34-year-old reflected that thus far, he has been impressed by the Korea International Circuit, whose troubled and much-delayed construction and preparation for F1's arrival has been only too well-documented.
“The track changed a lot today,” he reported. “Obviously it's a new venue, and it was slippery in FP1but everybody's in the same boat. It started to get more sensible as the day went on, but it's the same for everyone and we just have to keep chipping away, doing what we can with our programme and working with the car. It was a positive day and the car ran well; there was a lot of information to gather and we've done that pretty successfully.
“We're optimistic with today's performance, and now we're focussing on getting ready for tomorrow. It's enjoyable to drive here – there are a couple of unique sections, and it's always a challenge for a driver to get into a new venue. The pit entry and exit is a little bit marginal to get on and off the track but, apart from that, they've done a remarkable job and I'm clutching at straws to criticise anything.
“They have tried incredibly hard to get everything ready against a bit of a deadline. It looks like it will be ready, properly ready in a few years time if you know what I mean, in terms of around here and in terms of the city and some rural surroundings, if you like. It's a bit remote, but that's fine. I hope the people in the future can embrace the sport and have a good look at what F1 is about, as clearly at the moment it is new to them and a new experience, but the enthusiasm looks good which is the most important thing.”
As to RBR's chances in Korea, finally, Webber acknowledged that even in the event of snatching the top spot on the starting grid for the 14th time this season on Saturday, the Renault-powered RB6 could find itself out-dragged around sector one on the opening lap on Sunday due to the 1.2km straight that will seemingly play right into the hands of arch-rivals Ferrari and McLaren. The Milton Keynes-based squad does, however, he quipped, have a secret weapon...
“Yeah, that could happen,” he mused when asked about the possibility of either himself and Vettel locking out the front row and then still losing the lead on lap one, “but there's another 300km to go after that. Look, it was the same at Spa – we knew that we were going to be quite vulnerable up the hill there. There are some tracks where the first sector is different than other circuits, but you can only do what you can on the day so, yeah, if you're not leading at the end of the first lap, for sure you can still make an interesting race from there. That's what you always look to do – put your best foot forward.
“Obviously Seb has had a good run in qualifying – he has had a few pole positions, and I have had some poles as well. As you say the car is pretty quick on Saturday afternoon. We have adjustable front ride-height suspension, which has been running since the start of the year; that works well, and then we put the car back up for Sunday... Lots of things have been good for us and we're ready for most things, so we shall see how we go...”