Australia's new Formula One driver, Mark Webber interview Part 2 of 3 Q. - The differences between the Benetton you were test-driving last year and the Minardi you've got now, what are the noticeable differences between the two? Webber - The...
Australia's new Formula One driver, Mark Webber interview
Part 2 of 3
Q. - The differences between the Benetton you were test-driving last year and the Minardi you've got now, what are the noticeable differences between the two?
Webber - The main difference to me is, aerodynamics is a huge player in Formula One these days. Renault spend seven days a week in the wind tunnel, developing all their wings and undertrays and barge boards and cooling and everything for the car, which makes the thing a quicker machine, obviously, and Minardi spend five days a month. So it's a huge difference, and that's the big difference between the cars, is the aerodynamic efficiency, if you like, of the car. The grip level that the driver feels is somewhat lower than I felt in the Renault, but it's not night and day. When you look at two seconds in a lap time, then if you count that out to yourself, is not long, but in Formula One, it's about 50 million pounds worth. So, yeah, it's things like that - aerodynamics, a bit of engine, of course, and just little odds and bobs here and there.
Q. - We know that you're a bit of a fan not just of one sport, but plenty. Hopefully in Melbourne you might get a chance to catch up with a bit of AFL (Australian Football League) or maybe even come up (to New South Wales) and see your old mate Campo (rugby union great David Campese) for a bit of Super 12.
Webber - Yeah, I'm always up for watching any other sports, of course, and it's going to be a busy week. I went to watch the Fifth Test (cricket) here (in England last year) with the Ashes boys. I love to go and watch the one-dayers as well. Campo's going to be down there, I think, at the Grand Prix, involved down there in some way (driving in the MINI Celebrity Challenge in BMW's new MINI car). Hopefully most people will be in town and checking out that, but no question, mate, if we get time to check those other sports, it's good.
Q. - Just wondering about the team structure. Do you have actually a No. 1 and No. 2 driver as such, or if one starts to perform better than the other, if you start to perform better than Alex, for example, would he be instructed to support you?
Webber - At the moment, we're both on equal status. The only thing is whoever qualifies ahead, gets the T-car (spare car) for the race. We're going to take it in turns with the T-car and as far as that is, it's every man for himself and, yeah, do the best with what you've got. So whoever's quickest on the grid obviously gets the T-car for Sunday, and that's the main thing really. Other than that, there's no real difference between us.
Q. - Are there any particular aces that you can see up your sleeve this year that might surprise, like perhaps strategy or something?
Webber - Mate, it's pretty difficult to catch these boys (at the front) with their pants down, let me tell you. We've got some good guys looking at all sorts of things, which hopefully can make us do something more efficiently or something sharper, if you like, seat-of-the-pants sort of split decisions to make us look good, and that's always at the front of our minds. When it comes up, it will happen, but at the moment, there's nothing really that's jumping out. Let me tell you, we're trying to think of everything we can to try and surprise as much as we can as the season goes along, but it's a tough gig to try and pull that off.
Q. - What differences have you noticed going from being a test driver to a genuine Formula One driver?
Webber - Mate, everyone wants to take my bloody photo! Yeah, it's amazing the difference at the testing in Spain. Like, I mean, I haven't changed at all, I'm a race driver now, not a test driver, but you definitely become a lot busier, and now I know what Jensen (Button) used to whinge about. Not that I'm Jensen Button, but, yeah, you do get very busy. Your role with the team is not really too much different. I mean, I worked very hard with the guys at Renault. You probably were thinking a little bit more for yourself being a test driver, because obviously wanting to - even though you're a team player, but you are pushing very hard to make sure you come out of it looking as best you could. But now, when you've got to secure, when you're your own driver, you're obviously looking to work with the team in a much longer-term sort of way, which is good to do, and whether it's a daily thing at a test or a monthly thing. So that's how it changes. But, yeah, it's little things like that.
Q. - What is left to be done in Europe between now and when you come home for the race, because you'll be arriving here in about nine days' time?
Webber - Yeah, we're going to shake down the cars at, I think it is, Misano (in Italy) next Tuesday, which is great news because we're looking to get the T-car up and running. The guys have been working crazy hours to try to get the third car finished, so that will have a few kilometres on it before it gets to Melbourne. So ideally all three cars will have run before we hit the track in Melbourne, which is a great thing for the team to do. On Wednesday, I think we have to do a little bit in Italy and then Thursday we fly to Kuala Lumpur to launch the team down there, in KL (Kuala Lumpur). We hang out there for a day or so and then we come into Melbourne, I think, on the Sunday (February 24).
Q. - Mark, is there one key factor which swung this deal (the Minardi drive) for you? Was it sizzling test times or a big sponsor at the last minute that we don't know about?
Webber - I think what swung it really, it was nice to do the run at Valencia, which we did. Paul said to me before I even went there, he said, "Mate, just go out there, do what you normally do, things are looking very good. Just go about it, it's about learning the team and basically learning each other". Yeah, there was no huge real thing that jumped out of the woods and said, "The deal is now done". What probably helped a little bit is that Paul wasn't making much inroad with Frentzen (German driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who has since signed with Arrows), and that was probably good for me. After that, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion, which was great.
Q. - Is there pressure on you this year to make sure this is just not a one-year sort of deal, for to you perform, so that you continue the contract?
Webber - Mate, in Formula One, in terms of pressure, I think there's not many sports that are up there with this, and every weekend, every lap is scrutinised very heavily. I'm fully aware of what pressure I'm under this year to perform, and I wouldn't want to be in it for any other reason but to make sure I can hold my own ground, and that's what I'm planning to do this year. (Rubens) Barrichello, (David) Coulthard, it doesn't matter who you are, every year is a new year and every race is a new race. So I'm up for it, mate, and, you know, 2003 will come if I do a good job.
Q. - Just wondering, now that you've probably run against the majority of the teams, other than the sort of top runners that you probably wouldn't consider your competition, who do you think will be the likely competition for Minardi this year? Has Arrows stepped up, for example?
Webber - It's hard to say where Arrows are. I mean, we've seen in the past that Arrows have run very light in terms of weight in testing, to maybe get a few bikkies in the bank, so to speak. They could be there. Jaguar, two weeks ago, were in all sorts (of trouble), by the looks of it. Now they look like maybe they've found a little bit of form, who knows? There's no scales in testing. When you consider Formula One cars can run 40kg under weight, which at Barcelona is about 1.4 seconds a lap, 1.5, it's very, very difficult to judge. We know where we are, we know what lap times we've done, but we just don't know what the - of course, like you say, the big boys, we can't compete with them, but the other guys, Sauber are doing a great job. You know, as the year goes on, the BARs, we just don't know how much Michelin are going - how the tyre war is going to hot up. We hope Michelin obviously are very strong. So things like that, which we will hope to take advantage of, and especially if Michelin have some tracks where they are very, very hot at, we might be able to pinch a few Bridgestone teams, things like that.
Q. - You've always been pretty good at street circuits and you've always been pretty good in the rain. Traction control negates a bit of rain advantage, but would a little bit of wet weather - don't want to put the mockers on the race - but would a bit of wet weather help to play into your hands a little?
Webber - A wet track wouldn't hurt us, put it that way, but I think John (Harnden) and Ron (Walker) and all the boys would like it to rain probably at 2.10pm, not at 9am. I think these days, as well, you steel need a good - you can make a bit of a difference, for sure. I spoke to Fernando (Alonso, young Spaniard who raced for Minardi last year and is now Renault's test driver) about it not long ago and he said, like, even when it rains, it was very difficult sometimes to still make a difference. You know, you still need a very good aero package in the wet. These things still move in the rain pretty quickly. We're only talking about - you only brake about 10 or 15 metres earlier in the wet than you do in the dry, so you obviously still need a good package underneath you. It's different to Formula Ford, obviously. But, yes, I think it would help at some stages during the season if it was a bit greasy. Maybe things can happen a little bit. It would still be difficult.
Q. - In terms of the electronics on the cars, you know it's inevitable that they are here and they are here to stay, but do you feel that maybe they're taking over some of the role of the driver?
Webber - Some of it, yes. I'm frustrated with, especially with - the traction control is something which, in the sports car when I drove for Mercedes, was a far bigger challenge, no question about it. You do not get in a sports car in the greasy conditions and go out there and show Berndt Schneider (German who was Webber's sports car teammate) how to drive the thing, where with the traction control that does mask up someone's feel, I suppose, for exiting a car off a corner, which is something I have felt that I have had a good feeling for in the past or an advantage in the past. But at the end of the day, I still think the best guy can make the most of the tools that he has, and we have seen that with Michael (Schumacher). He's making the most of the tool that he has, and it just opens up more possibilities to maximise the car. When we talk about traction control, it is controlling the engine in ways of coming off the corner, but this changes every lap due to tyre conditions or fuel load or track conditions. So it's opened up another fine art. It's frustrating, in a way, but also the drivers have to work very hard with that as well.
Q. - What has been the reaction of the other drivers to you coming into Formula One? Have they been fairly welcoming to you and perhaps treating you somewhat differently to what they did when you were a test driver?
Webber - Yeah, there's been a few guys who've been happy for me, congratulated me and, not, "Welcome to the club," but sort of, "Welcome to the grid". They know what sort of step it is and a big day for them when they found out, so for me now to be a race driver is special. They realise that I was obviously very motivated to get the gig and it's worked out well, so there are some happy guys. It's business as usual, obviously, once we're at the track.
Q. - Does that include the Mercedes guys? Have you had any contact with them?
Webber - Yeah, all the guys at AMG (the special tuning associate of Mercedes) have been fantastic. I spoke to Norbert (Haug, Mercedes-Benz motor sport manager) at Christmas time and told him things were looking pretty good. Yeah, they've been pretty good, everyone has been pretty happy. I'm having a party tomorrow tonight with Alan Docking (Australian owner of the British Formula Three team Webber raced for in the late 1990s) and all the boys who helped me through, so it's going to be good.