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F1 Opinion History 15

The race to replace Mark Webber

Even before news of Mark Webber’s planned departure from Dietrich Mateschitz’s senior squad broke, the current internecine battle at Scuderia Toro Rosso possessed an edge its predecessor never did. @AussieGrit had his feet firmly under Red Bull’s table when Sébastien Buemi and Jaime Alguersuari were parading their wares and so there was never any suggestion that they would be promoted – or any sense that they deserved to be.

racing history opinion  The race to replace Mark Webber

Buemi (24) and Alguersuari (23) are the same ages as their replacements, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, and yet both will be lucky to be awarded another Formula 1 opportunity. That’s despite Alguersuari’s scoring 26 points, courtesy of seven top 10s, in 2011, a total that Vergne (16 points) and Ricciardo (10) had to combine to match last season.

Timing is vital – and so it’s the latter pair who now have 10 Grands Prix to convince their employers that they could do at least as good a job in a (probably) winning car in 2014 as, say, an out-of-contract Kimi Räikkönen.

The younger Vergne has been shadowing Ricciardo throughout his single-seater career. Both finished second in a Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup before graduating to Formula 3 and winning the British title with Carlin Motorsport – as had Alguersuari (in 2008) – and then finishing runner-up in Formula Renault 3.5. For a few races in 2010 they were team-mates at Tech 1 Racing, and in 2011 they shared the Friday Practice Driver role at Toro Rosso. For much of the time, therefore, they have been lobbing shells over the horizon. Now, as the crux of their careers approaches, it’s strictly hand-to-hand combat.

So which holds the upper?

Over a single lap it is, without question, Ricciardo. The Australian aced his French team-mate 16:4 in qualifying during 2012, and to date this season his advantage is 6:3. On average, he tends to start a row ahead.

racing history opinion  The race to replace Mark Webber

Races generate a different pattern. Vergne’s four eighth places in 2012 gave him a points advantage even though Ricciardo registered six top-10 finishes.

In 2012, Ricciardo gained 49 places above and beyond his grid positions; Vergne gained 72 despite suffering three more retirements. So far this season, Vergne has retired four times and yet gained another 16 places, whereas Ricciardo has retired twice and lost 21.

Like most damned statistics these can be explained in more than one way: either Ricciardo is pushing a car faster than it wants to go and suffers for it as the levels average out over a race distance, or Vergne is underperforming in qualifying and looking better because of it, picking off people he should have started ahead of in the first place.

There is another intriguing pattern. You could barely squeeze a credit card between them in races in 2012: they finished one place apart in China, Bahrain, Spain, Canada, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Belgium and Korea – Vergne finishing 5:4 ahead on this score – and ended up a place apart in the overall standings. This season, stakes raised, steady consistency is not what necessarily catches the eye. Pushing harder and perhaps taking more risks has seen them diverge within the running orders, each scoring their best grid positions and results to date in the process, Vergne’s sixth-place finish in Canada pipping Ricciardo’s seventh in China.

racing history opinion  The race to replace Mark Webber

In conclusion, though there’s little between them as packages, its Ricciardo’s outright speed – qualifying, though not as pure a test as it once was, is still most pundits’ barometer of potential – puts him at the front of this micro-queue. Unfortunately for him, he suffers, as does Vergne, in comparison with Vettel’s performances at Toro Rosso, the German’s historic win (in a Newey design admittedly) in the wet at Monza in 2008 marking him out as obviously special.

The chances of Red Bull’s Formula 1 academy ‘spotting’ another golden bull’s eye were always distinctly marginal. Sifting talent is what junior formulae are for. Or used to be. F1 teams today possess sufficient complexity, budget, paranoia and control-freakery to warrant continuing the process under their own auspices.

However, this process began, albeit under different circumstances, with Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz as long ago as the 1930s. The former was desperate to find a capable team-mate for Hans Stuck for the 1935 season. It signed at great expense the established Achille Varzi, but stumbled across Bernd Rosemeyer, a confident, talented chancer with no car racing experience – a bonus as it turned out – who mithered incessantly until he was given an evaluation test at the Nürburgring in November 1934.

racing history opinion  The race to replace Mark Webber

Rosemeyer’s subsequent outstanding success, plus the lack of a junior formula capable of preparing a driver for a quirky 450bhp car on skinny tyres, made AU realise that new talent had to be sought from all areas, some more unusual than others, drawn together and thrown in the deepest of ends. In this way future GP winners Rudolf Hasse and Hermann Paul Müller were discovered – and inexperienced Rudolf Heydel, chosen from the many as ‘the next Rosemeyer’ at the end of 1935, met a sudden and violent end on his first day of official testing at Monza in the February of the following year.

Mercedes-Benz, more grandiose than its necessarily resourceful rival, held a ‘Driver School’ at the ’Ring in October 1936. Almost 30 hopefuls were invited, a dozen or so got their chance behind the wheel of the GP car; Britain’s Dick Seaman and Swiss Christian Kautz, blessed with more experience than their rivals, were selected as the official juniors and inexperienced Hermann Schmitz met his end (in a 500K road car that provided the candidates’ first hurdle).

In the 1960s, Scuderia Ferrari was persuaded by a federation of smaller teams to boost the search for a replacement for deceased Italian champions Alberto Ascari, Eugenio Castellotti and Luigi Musso. The Federazione Italiana Scuderie Mobilistiche (FISA) was thus loaned a 156 ‘Sharknose’, to be driven by Giancarlo Baghetti, winner of the 10-lap Coppa FISA Formula Junior selection race at Monza in December 1960. The Milanese used the car to win his first three F1 races, including the French GP on his World Championship debut. He also set the fastest lap in that season’s Italian GP but ultimately would be found lacking at the highest level. Enzo soon lost interest, and Eugenio Dragoni, the fed’s pushiest, biggest wheel as team manager of ambitious Scuderia Sant Ambroeus, got what he really wanted: a job at Ferrari.

racing history opinion  The race to replace Mark Webber

BRM also sought the next F1 generation in the 1960s. It thought enough of Jack Lewis’s talents – and father’s funds – to supply his Ecurie Galloise with a car for 1962 but had insufficient infrastructure and/or will to ensure its speed, preparedness and reliability. The talented Lewis called a halt to the project after just three races and retired for good at the end of the season. And in 1967, Reg Parnell Racing ran a semi-works BRM shared by Piers Courage and Chris Irwin. The former got first dibs, floundered, tried too hard, earned himself a dubious reputation and was snubbed publicly at his home GP, while the latter, more focused, intense and deemed the best of the British young guns, burnished his reputation, particularly at the wheel of the unloved H16. Courage would win over his critics before an untimely death at Zandvoort in 1970, while a thunderous accident in a sports car at the Nürburgring in 1968 would prevent Irwin, gravely injured, from proving the pundits right or wrong.

The carefully nurtured Vettel and Lewis Hamilton apart, finding the next big thing has proved an inexact science. The remaining episodes of Ricciardo versus Vergne will be fascinating, but my guess is that they will neither provide a conclusive answer nor the man most likely. Given the myriad changes pending for 2014, speed with experience will be key. Cue Kimi for his first bit of F1 ‘bull’ since leaving Sauber 12 years ago.

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racing history opinion  The race to replace Mark Webber

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15 comments on The race to replace Mark Webber

  1. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 11 July 2013 13:44

    I’d always choose a kid who can qualify the car well up the grid than one who under-qualifies the car, gets the advantage of “fresh” rubber and, then, “makes up” places because A) his car is faster than those he was out-qualified by (as mentioned in the article) and, B) he’s got lots of fresh rubber.

    Ricciardo has blown away Vergne in qualifying lately. It ain’t even close…so It’s now between Raikkonen and Ricciardo.

    The two most successful Red Bull-sponsored young drivers ever have been Vettel and Raikkonen and that would be the most potent pairing for RBR in ’14.

    In addition, any comparison to Vettel at Monza in 2008 is futile.

    Firstly, it was a “Newey-Ferrari”. Secondly, Vettel was an All Time Great in the making.

    RBRl are very selective. A LOT of drivers have come and been burned:

    Liuzzi, Klein, Speed, Bourdais, Ammermuller, Haug, Hartley, Buemi, Alguersauri, and so many, many more.

    Perhaps if this was June, 1994 – when the driving talent was at it’s low – some of these guys would have remained on the grid.

    But this is now and, even without Webber/Kubica, we still have Vettel, Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Button, and Rosberg . The talent is so deep now that even Schumacher couldn’t get a reasonable seat for this year.

    Lastly, there are a lot of young, hungry, talented drivers other than Ricciardo (and Vergne) knocking on the door:

    Hulkenberg is one.

    Bianchi, a Ferrari Academy driver, another.

    Bottas yet another.

    Then there’s di Resta, Perez, Sutil…

  2. Michael Spitale, 11 July 2013 15:32

    Not many drivers want another top driver in the team. Alonso for instance has always wanted a #2 with no questions asked. There was no way on earth he could have ever guessed a rookie would have done just as well as him at Macca and he got out of that team as fast as he could at years end.

    I also think it is never easy to transition into a team where the other driver is already locked in and in this case with perhaps 4 straight titles. Hamilton has taken most of the season to get on pace with Rosberg for instance and I as most would rate Lewis above Nico.

    With all that said Lotus were several months behind paying Kimi, James Allison has left and who knows what the future holds. So Kimi may just chuck it and go for it at Red Bull. There is no doubt Kimi is not afraid of any driver, but he could be flying into a hornets nest if he makes the move.

  3. Harb, 11 July 2013 17:11

    “made AU realise that new talent had to be sought from all areas, some more unusual than others, drawn together and thrown in the deepest of ends.”

    Precisely. Kill two birds with one stone here – Cal Crutchlow to Red Bull in 2014!

  4. Terry Jacob, 11 July 2013 18:19

    The surfeit of present day feeder series just confuse the whole darned issue .

  5. CC, 11 July 2013 19:50

    I have always thought some race driver’s are lazy f**kers, as soon as there is a hot drive up for grabs or their contract, all of a sudden they get super competitive. They go from being half asleep in a race to ‘oh look at me, look at me’
    I’d take Hulkenberg as he’s the only one with any personality and individual spirit.

  6. Alex Milligan, 11 July 2013 23:14

    Whilst I would love to see Kimi get the seat, and also think that the most interesting aspect would be to see, over a full season, the demeanour of SV as he is paired with an equal for a change. (No disrespect to Webber, fast driver and I really rate him but there is little doubt that the lack of love for him at RB has shattered his psyche)/ Kimi will not give two sh*ts about the Red Bull dust politics and just drive the thing, so is a very appetising prospect – However, Hulkenberg should get the seat. Either that or bring back Kobayashi san!!!!

  7. deeron, 12 July 2013 06:36

    I think who Red Bull choose really is down to whether they want to:

    A) Keep the status quo by having Ricciardo slip into the Webber number two role allowing Vettel to keep picking up world titles.


    B) Gain huge publicity and coverage by signing Kimi – which most people want to see. Downside of this is that it’ll be slightly less likely Red Bull will win driver’s titles as it’ll be a battle of the big beasts. Although they are friends, they will end up taking points off one another Mansell v Piquet in ’86 or Alonso v Hamilton in ’07.

    Must say even as a Kimi fan I think Vettel would probably beat him given his history with the team, plus I think he’s a superior qualifier.

  8. John Read, 12 July 2013 06:50

    It’s Helmut’s choice isn’t it? He is probably poring over the psyche-test results for the Toro Rosso boys to find the most likely compliant number 2.

    I’m pretty sure they would have been psyche-tested and everything else-tested almost to the level of a prospective mother to the heir of the crown.

    The trouble for Helmut is that Kimi would refuse the test and is a non-compliant type anyway. Ricciardo should go elswhere and leave the seat for Hulkenburg.

  9. Alex Milligan, 12 July 2013 22:42

    Ha ha John Read, I fear that you are right about Marko. Why am I looking forward to the day (perhaps in vain) that SV gets beaten by a team mate in equal equipment? – To see Marko squirm with anguish. Have to respect him as a driver – winning Le Mans in a 917, but how loathsome he appears from what we can read about him in the media. I do hope that in person he proves his media image wrong.
    Perhaps a Lunch with Simon Taylor article is needed Mr Editor???

  10. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 15 July 2013 14:52

    I thought the decision makers – in order of importance/clout – are Mateschitz (the guy who’s money it is), Horner (the very competent guy who runs Red Bull Racing) and, then, Marko (the guy who runs the Red Bull Young Driver Academy).

    How anyone can say it’s ‘Helmut’s decision’ with a straight face is beyond me.

    They make joint decisions. On the one hand, they may not want to “devalue” the Academy by not internally promoting …On the other hand, they are in business to win Championships.

    A guy like Raikkonen is hugely, HUGHLY consistent and will help you win Championships and, more importatly, doesn’t care who the other driver is. He doesn’t have the same bad “baggage” as Alonso or Hamilton either!

    Perhaps Raikkonen might be a threat to Vettel himself but I doubt the team care about that.

    After all, didn’t they ORDER Vettel to stay behind Webber in Malayisa? “Multi 2-1″, remember? So, I doubt the three of them, collectively, care if Vettel would “like” having Kimi in the team or not.

    If anything, Red Bull would WANT Kimi there just IN CASE Ferrari or Mercedes take their fat cheque books out to ‘poach’ the German…as is inevitable over the next few years.

  11. John Read, 15 July 2013 23:37

    Come on Ray,

    They did ORDER Vettel to stay behind.

    But he didn’t.

    That’s the point.

    Your order of command is quite logical, but it is not reflected in historical reality.

    Think about the RBR pecking order in quali, pit stops in the races, mechanics, engineers etc etc.

    If you don’t think there has been a ‘Number 2′ driver at RBR then I may become lost for words.

    I’m not talking about whether there should be favouritism because the results are on the board, but Blind Freddie can see what has been happening. I don’t think Kimi will be that silly to go there.

  12. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 16 July 2013 12:14


    Well, to me, the point is that they sent an ORDER out to their reigning triple World Champion to follow Webber.

    That to me shows intent.

    As does sending both Webber and Vettel to the Young Driver / Pirelli test at Silverstone this week.

    Webber is on his way out of Formula One yet Red Bull are sending him as well as Vettel to Silverstoe whilst EVERY other team is sending just ONE race driver.

    Why is Red Bull doing that? Just think about it, please.

    As an aside, they’re putting Ricciardo in an RB9 as well. I said at the first post that the young Aussie pulverized Vergne in qualifying recently and that puts him in the Pound Seats in direct competion with Kimi.

    Why would Kimi want to go to Red Bull?

    Why wouldn’t he?

    RBR have way more resources, Newey, strategists that do a much better job than Lotus at delivering wins, a car capable of winning more often, etc.

    (Remember, Lotus pit wall cost Kimi a win in Germany and 2nd in the British GP. More often than not, RBR strategists are superior at calling stops, etc.)

    It’s a no brainer that Kimi would want to drive for a team that can regularly deliver wins and championships.

  13. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 16 July 2013 12:45

    I meant to type that, more often than not, RBR is superior at calling intra-race strategy than Lotus.

    Webber taking 2nd at Silverstone instead of Raikkoned is one recent example.

    Vettel winning the German GP instead of Raikkonen is yet another.

    Two races on the trot, Boullier and Co have messed up Kimi’s chances of big points. It must get tiring after a while.

  14. RHUAIRI MACLEOD, 20 July 2013 21:23

    I find it most disappointing and surprising that no one has been more supportive of Mark Webber at Red Bull. It seems fair to say that had it not been for managerial decisions Webber would be Red Bull’s No 1 driver and this message deserves to be promoted globally. Go for it Mark in 2013! Best wishes, Rhuairi

  15. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 22 July 2013 13:17


    Aha ha ha! You really are a funny one, my dear fellow!

    Red Bull have given Mark Webber more chances than any other team has and more chances than a team like Ferrari with Alonso there would!

    In 2010, Mark was given the more reliable RB6. Vettel’s car had more mechanical DNFs than Mark’s and the two Ferraris combined! And…he would have been Champion had he not crashed the car in Korea.

    The fact of the matter is that Vettel is faster of VERY fast pairing. Even in 2009, in their first year together, Vettel was faster.

    I’d suggest that Mark was in control of his own destiny. His two accidents whilst Iron-Manning/Cycling down mountains was down to him and no one else.

    History will show – when everyone’s career is over and done – that Webber went up against a young man who was, effectivey, an All Time Great in the mould of a Stewart, a Prost, a Fangio and a driver who delivered Senna-like Poles and Clark-like wins.

    Webber should feel no shame in being, very often, within a tenth to 2-tenths of a driver like that.

    I hope the Aussie goes on to win Le Mans multiple times!

    But before he goes there, it would be great to see him bag a couple of Grand Prix wins and stitch together a top-class 2nd half of 2013!

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