Mark Webber is taking an optimistic view of the upcoming Formula One season that is weeks away from delivering reengineered cars and revamped driver line-ups to the first round in Australia.
Speaking to Wheels at the Bathurst 12 Hour, Webber gave his insights on the regulation changes, how he thinks the grid will stack up, and which Red Bull teammate has the edge.
“This year it’s going to be more power-sensitive than ever. The cars will have a lot more downforce so you’ll need a bigger engine more than you ever have done.
“They’ll be a good visual to watch. The cars will be very, very fast, so the drivers will be earning their money again. I’m looking forward to that.”
Aerodynamic restrictions should result in a field of lower, wider Formula One cars with larger tyres front and rear for more mechanical grip.
“They’ll be going back to lap times that we used to do ten years ago. The drivers will be sweating on the podium. You’ll see them working harder, which is nice.”
Webber thinks the recent dominance of Mercedes-AMG will be more difficult to preserve.
“I think Red Bull have had a very quiet winter and they’re going to be quite strong. It really depends on who unlocks this new regulation best, and traditionally Adrian [Newey] has been quite good at that.
“Mercedes had the luxury of closing out a championship very early in the constructors so that means you have a big chance to put your resources onto the year after earlier than anyone else. They’ve got a very good engine, but operationally Red Bull were the best team last year. [In terms of] reliability, they were the best team. Mercedes still had some technical challenges, so if it’s nip and tuck, if it’s down the fine points, Red Bull are very good at that.”
Max Verstappen’s on-track performance was a key talking point of the 2016 Formula One season, and winning the battle between Verstappen and Ricciardo in 2017 could prove vital to the drivers’ respective careers.
“It’ll be tight. It was at the end of last year. I still think Daniel has more composure. Experience will be very, very useful to him particularly in this early part of the championship. When you’ve seen the regulations change, which he has done, that’s an advantage for him.
“It’s going to be a good battle, but I think the composure side is a big, big plus for Daniel. He still heats up, don’t get me wrong. You don’t get to that level without having that fire – he’s got plenty of that. It’s just pulling the weekends together. Max is – thank God – still learning. He’s an unbelievable talent.”
The ousting of Bernie Ecclestone from his long-held position at the top of Formula One by new owners Liberty Media has sparked discussion about the sport’s future.
“It’s going to take a couple of years [for Liberty] to work out how they’re going to do it their way. It’s going to be about how they pay the bigger teams and the discrepancies of the commercial situation to try and give other teams a bit more of a chance.
“[Are] there some common parts? There’s never been a common part in F1 ever, but is there a common part post 2021? Who knows? Stuff like that will totally be on the table.
“Ross [Brawn] is a good addition. That’s a very good signing for Ross to be there. Formula One is global and that’s where Ross can help a bit. [Liberty] are very American-centric, but very successful. Let’s see how they can translate that. We can’t measure Liberty in the first five minutes.”
Webber retired from motor racing in 2016 and remains closely associated with both Red Bull and Porsche. His commitments to Formula One broadcasting means he will still be around the sport for some time to come.
“The first quarter this year is a lot of long haul, a lot of big travelling, but you know, it’s good. I’m doing a lot of TV work in Europe with Channel 4, all the GP work there and a one off here in Melbourne with Channel 10. It just turns out that I can talk OK about stuff. I generally should know what I’m talking about.”