Mark Webber staked his claim to being Red Bull’s better bet to win the Formula One championship at the Belgian Grand Prix, where another poor decision proved costly to teammate Sebastian Vettel’s title chances and reputation.
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Webber lost his pole advantage but came back from fifth to finish second behind Lewis Hamilton of McLaren, who retook the overall lead from Webber with the victory at Spa. Hamilton leads Webber by three points.
Webber indicated that the team should back him because Vettel fell further adrift in the standings after a crash into Jenson Button left him out of the points.
”It’s still too early at the moment, but not too far away,” the 34-year-old Webber said of a decision by Red Bull, which is chasing it’s first F1 title. ”I think it depends on how hungry we are to try and do that.”
Webber has won four races this season, two more than Vettel, to sit 28 points ahead of his 23-year-old German teammate, who came away with question marks over his decision making after taking Button out trying to make an ill-advised pass.
”It was not what you would expect to see in F1 – it was more reminiscent of junior (categories),” McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said. ”If he was going for the inside he had 3 inches to sneak down there, so God knows what he thought he was doing.”
While Vettel apologized afterward, the damage was done. Vettel’s enormous promise has earned him the nickname ”Baby Schumacher,” in reference to seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher, but the hype that surrounded him has been dissipating over this season.
”A very strange mistake to make. He lost the car under braking and it was completely dry on that corner,” Button said. ”I don’t know what he was doing, really. I paid the price for somebody else’s mistake.”
A tug-of-war over the No. 1 spot in Red Bull emerged after Turkey when Vettel swiped into Webber as he tried to overtake. Vettel emerged from his car making a ”he’s crazy” gesture with his hand while Webber recovered from losing the race lead to finish on the podium.
Vettel was on course to win in Hungary, but a mistake behind the safety car cost him and Webber won. That came after Webber questioned his own future with Red Bull at the British Grand Prix, where the team had only one new front wing and gave it to Vettel.
Despite the ongoing saga, team principal Christian Horner said Red Bull would not be picking a No. 1 with 150 points still up for grabs.
With Vettel being the face of the energy drink-sponsored team that thrives on the image of youth and extreme sports, Red Bull may hand its opponents the advantage if it delays a decision too long.
Ferrari has already backed Fernando Alonso in its title bid, while defending F1 champion Button is likely to be relegated to No. 2 in McLaren should Hamilton win the Italian GP on Sept. 12.
”(Webber) is mathematically the closest. He is a strong driver and he is driving well, so he has got to be the main opposition,” Whitmarsh said. ”(But) I think they quite like their younger driver, so I doubt they will put their weight behind Mark.”
Hamilton believed McLaren’s experience would serve it down the stretch with six races to go.
”You have seen in the last few races how quickly things can change so we still have a long way to go, and many points to be grabbed by any of us drivers fighting for the championship,” the Briton said. ”The closest rival to me at the moment in terms of points is Mark but I still think the championship is open.”