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April 29, 2015 3:00PM
MARK Webber has never been one to mince words. The former Formula 1 star has made no bones about his thoughts on the current state of the sport that was once central to his career and life.
“I want it to be awesome again,” Webber told F1i in a wideranging interview about the current state of the sport.
“It’s just a shame they haven’t found the right balance. Probably the best thing they’ve done in the last five years is to add some sparks!”
After a decorated 11-season career at the pinnacle of the sport, Webber stepped out of F1 at the end of 2013 to take up a drive with Porsche in the World Endurance Championship.
He is content with his decision to leave F1; he is less content about the direction F1 has taken, especially when compared to the spectacle and the aura its cars possessed when he arrived in as a rookie in 2002.
“If you watched the Silverstone race it was a good car race, but you don’t expect the fans to sit down and watch all six hours, or at least not many of them, but that’s the way the sport is.
“But plenty watched Murray v Djokovic in the Australian Open for four hours, because every point was important and you knew they were on the edge, which is what Formula 1 should be.
“It should be about people going to the limit.”
Here are the key issues that Webber believes needs to be addressed.
MAKE THE CARS FASTER
Webber believes Formula 1 cars should be capable of recording lap times that leave no question over their place as the pinnacle of four-wheel motorsport.
“Formula 1 should be 15 seconds (a lap) clear of any other category and as drivers and spectators you should experience nothing else like it, it should blow you away,” Webber said.
“But currently you have at least two other categories that are within two seconds in a race. Maybe we should enter an F1 race with a WEC car, we might score some points and we are 250 kilos heavier!
“I’d love someone to do a stat on race pace with the 2015 race compared to the mid-2000s — probably Montoya would have lapped Seb in Malaysia three and a half times!”
It sounds like he’s exaggerating, but Webber’s guess is actually less than what the numbers suggest.
We did the maths based on the quickest full-distance Malaysian Grand Prix in history, the 2006 race won by Giancarlo Fisichella in 1hr30m40.529s. Vettel took about nine and a half minutes more to win this year’s race, cutting out the time lost by the early-race safety car.
All up, Fisichella would have lapped Vettel almost six times by the time the Renault driver completed the 56-lap distance.
GIVE THEM BETTER TYRES
Tyres have been a constant talking point since Pirelli came into the sport as F1’s sole supplier from the 2011 season. You can’t fault the Italian company for the rubber it brings to the racetrack; Pirelli has been given a brief to create tyres that wear out quickly in order to mix up race strategy and spice up the show.
It’s a philosophy that Webber was always outspoken about while he was in F1, and 18 months on the outside haven’t changed his opinion.
“F1 has changed so much in the last five or six years, so that today, the engineers are constantly focusing on tyre performance and even in GP2 and GP3, a driver’s performance is all about how he manages the tyres.”
“In the past, the limitation over the back part of the track in Malaysia used to be balls and how fit you were. Now its ‘save your tyres.’”
LET’S GET PHYSICAL
The physical demands of driving a Formula 1 car have changed markedly over the sport’s 65-year history. From sitting upright and leaning on a big steering wheel to turn a hulking beast of a front-engined car, drivers are now lying down with their arms outstretched as they grapple with a steering wheel packed with electronics and switches.
Webber believes today’s pilots get an easier ride than those of just 10 years ago.
The recent moves to strip downforce from the cars, and the less grip offered by the fast-wearing tyres, means F1 cars simply don’t generate the cornering force that they once did.
The tyre rules also discourage drivers from pushing hard in races, a stark contrast to the fuel-stop era of 1994-2009 when drivers essentially tried to drive every lap flat-out.
“F1 needs to be the pinnacle and, on an engineering and technical side, it is,” he said. “But in terms of the drivers pushing on the limit for two hours, it is questionable at the moment.
“There needs to be more of a physical component and more reward for guys who’ve been more disciplined in that area. In tennis, I don’t think Roger Federer wants to have the net lowered.
“Drivers need to be stimulated. I mean I didn’t have the talent of some of the guys I was racing with, which is why I only got the results I did, but the guys that have got more talent were not happy.
“Michael (Schumacher) was very disappointed when he made his comeback: Yeah, he wasn’t at his peak but clearly he was disappointed that the racing wasn’t the way it had been.”
During the 2011 Belgian Grand Prix, Webber pulled off what many believed was one of the great on-track passes in F1 history.
Chasing Fernando Alonso out of the La Source hairpin, Webber pulled alongside the Ferrari as they plunged down the hill towards the fearsome Eau Rouge corner. At around 300km/h, the two cars rushing towards a point too narrow for both, it was Webber who held his nerve and his foot flat to the floor. Alonso lifted and Webber rushed around his outside as they climbed up the hill towards Radillion.
It was a move that is remembered and revered for its bravery. Few remember what happened a lap later.
Alonso made use of DRS to blow past Webber on the long straight after Eau Rouge, a nothing move that nullified Webber’s balls-to-the-wall move just 120 seconds earlier.
“If you make the goals bigger in football is Messi happier?” Webber asks. “Probably not, because he has the ability.
“Unfortunately, people now expect to see 20 passing moves per grand prix, it’s sort of standard now. I think we could do with racing with less overtaking and better quality across the board.”
LESS FOCUS ON THE TECHNICAL SIDE
Last year’s rule changes arguably made Formula 1 cars more technically complex than they had ever been. The introduction of hybrid engines increased the number of variables available for the engineers in the pits to influence strategy, with the cars able to harvest energy and deploy it tactically around the circuit to boost performance.
Webber feels that it has made the sport too difficult to comprehend for the sport’s casual fans.
“We seem to have to tell everyone what we are doing with the technical and sporting regs and what’s happening. Why not just get on with things? You don’t need to try and explain everything.
“Most people I talk to are intimidated by what DRS is, what the Softs and Supersofts are, they feel they can’t just turn on the TV and understand what they are watching.
“All these vast changes, whether it’s to the regulations or the penalties or the tokens — who cares?
“People are just not bothered, they just want to see cracking good car racing with the best guys fighting it out.”
CRANK UP THE VOLUME
10 years ago, you didn’t merely listen to a Formula 1 car driving past you at full throttle. You experienced it.
The sound of a normally aspirated three-litre V10 F1 engine belting past you at full song ... it was an aural aria that reached deep into your chest and shook your soul.
The current generation of hybrid F1 engines fall well short of that.
It is possible for a V6 engine to generate a sweet sound — listen to a Ferrari Dino engine and try to say otherwise — but the turbocharger takes that exhaust note and stifles it, effectively pumping it back into the engine to create more horsepower.
Webber believes that ground-shaking, ear-shattering noise should be a core part of Formula 1’s spectacle.
“You need to bring earplugs back,” he says.
“You need that, you need to be able to hear the cars five kilometres from the track!”
BRING BACK THE BEASTS
Whether it be Jim Clark’s powerful but skitterish Lotus 49, the Benetton B186 equipped with a turbo BMW engine capable of a tyre-hazing 1500 horsepower, or Michael Schumacher’s arrow-sharp Ferrari of 2004 that brought handling, horsepower and aerodynamics to a fever pitch, F1 cars have always had a reputation of being tough to master.
When Webber had his first drive of an F1 car around the turn of the millennium, he was in awe of its power and of the performance it was capable of — if the driver was up to the job.
The current crop of cars are in no way a Sunday drive behind the wheel, but Webber feels the tyres, engine rules and electronics have made them easier to master.
“When I quit F1 I said to someone about the current cars, ‘we’re qualified, we’ve come through the ranks, so that effectively we’re qualified to fly F18s, but now we’re flying passenger jets’,” he said.
“There’s no doubt that (Max) Verstappen is a talent but after just a handful of races, he’s already ahead of the car. F1 shouldn’t be like that.
“F1 cars should command more respect. When you warm one of them up in the garage for the first time it should be a case of ‘f***ing hell! I’ve made it to here and now I have to crack this final mission’.
“Talk to drivers who started in Formula 1 around the same time I did: we all came away from the first F1 test thinking ‘I’m not too sure about this,’ which is completely how it should be and that resonates with the fans.”