Mark Webber is looking forward to seeing his former rivals sweat in 2017.
The nine-time grand prix winner is pleased that new regulations for Formula One could see lap times slashed by as much as five seconds around Albert Park this weekend for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. And, with that, the Aussie ace predicts drivers will be working harder behind the wheel.
“The drivers will be sweating on the podium, you’ll see them working a bit harder which is nice,” Webber told Drive in a recent interview.
The new regulations have been tipped to help Webber’s former team, Red Bull Racing, become more competitive against the dominant Mercedes-Benz outfit thanks to the team’s technical boss Adrian Newey’s expertise with aerodynamics.
While he was speaking ahead of pre-season testing Webber is confident that Mercedes-AMG and Red Bull will both be near the front of the pack in 2017 but picking a winner is tough.
Lewis Hamilton has been quick in testing in the new Mercedes-AMG. Photo: Charles Coates
“It really depends who unlocks this new regulation and Adrian has traditionally been very good at that,” Webber said.
“Mercedes locked down the championship early so that means you have a big chance to put your resources onto the year-after program, earlier than anyone else potentially. They’ve got a very good engine, we know that, that’s been their strength.
“But operationally Red Bull were the best team last year, reliability they were the best team and Mercedes still have some technical challenges.”
The intra-team battle at Red Bull between Australian Daniel Ricciardo and young gun Max Verstappen is shaping as one of the biggest talking points of the 2017 season.
Having personal experience of going head-to-head against a highly-rated younger teammate at Red Bull, Webber is uniquely qualified to give his verdict on how the season will play out between two of the hottest talents in F1.
“I think it will be tight,” Webber admitted. “It was at the end of last year.
“I think Daniel has more composure. Obviously that experience for him will be very valuable, particularly in this early part of the championship.
“When you’ve seen more regulation changes, which he has, he’s seen a few different types of cars and that is an advantage for him. So I think that will be very good him.
“It’s going to be a good battle there. But I think the composure side will be a big, big plus for Daniel.”
Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen. Photo: Getty Images
While Ricciardo is more even tempered than the occasionally fiery Verstappen, Webber knows his compatriot has a determined streak in him that will serve him well in his battle this season.
“[Ricciardo] still heats up don’t get me wrong,” he said. “You don’t get to that level without having that fire. He’s got plenty of that. It’s putting the weekends together. Max is still, thank god, is still learning. He’s an unbelievable talent what he’s done.”
In addition to the regulation changes, F1 is also undergoing one of its largest periods of change behind-the-scenes with American company Liberty Media taking over the management of the sport. Longtime F1 czar Bernie Ecclestone has been removed from his position of power, a post he has held since the 1970s.
In his place Liberty has appointed its own commercial team and hired former team boss Ross Brawn, the man who masterminded Michael Schumacher’s domination at Benetton and Ferrari, to run the sporting side.
Webber believes the changes are for the better but implementing significant change will take time. In the meantime, however, he is adamant the sport is in good health.
Photo: Rob Griffith
“Formula One has been pretty good in the last few of years,” he said. “People say ‘Mercedes is dominating, rah, rah’ but we’ve always had teams that are dominant. Michael’s era, the Williams era, the McLaren era.
“It’s going to take a while to settle down commercially off the back of this. The sporting side should be a good step forward. The cars are quicker than they’ve been for a long time which means the drivers will be earning their money again, which is great. They’ll be going back to the lap times we were doing 10 years ago, which is good. I think that’s a good visual. The cars will be very, very fast. So sporting-wise I’m looking forward to that.
“From the commercial side it’s going to take years. It’s going to take a couple of years, probably two years, to get these to work out how they’re going to do it their way. And they’ve got to have the collaboration with the teams, the promoters and work out how they’re going to do that.
“We can’t measure Liberty in the first five minutes. It’s going to take them a while. Obviously Ross is a good addition, that’s a very good sign for Ross to be there. But let’s give them time.”
Speaking of time, Webber has more of it on his hands now that he has hung up his helmet. He will continue to work with Porsche on its World Endurance Championship program and as a brand ambassador. He is also busy with a television career, working with Network Ten this weekend in Australia as well as a regular role on Britain’s Channel 4 coverage.