Mark Webber believes only one man can push Lewis Hamilton
Words by Rob Chilton
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The ex-F1 driver hopes Max Verstappen can make the season interesting
With a little under a fortnight to go until the green light signals the start of the 2021 Formula One season, teams are frantically refining their cars to gain those vital extra seconds.
For ex-F1 driver turned pundit Mark Webber, it’s an exciting time of year. “I’m well and truly out of it from a competition perspective but from a neutral point of view I love the preparation and I know what they’re going through,” Webber tells EDGAR. “The shadow boxing will soon be over.”
Testing in Bahrain ahead of the first race on March 28 has seen Mercedes-Benz and Lewis Hamilton struggle while other teams have enjoyed positive times.
“It’s getting a bit juicy judging by the lap times of the boys,” says Webber. “There’s a huge amount of planning and effort that goes on in the off-season but one thing you can’t control in Formula One is time, you can’t stop the clock. Some teams will feel they’re running out of days, other teams will be saying bring it on, let’s capitalise and win some points.”
Like many F1 fans, Webber hopes Hamilton’s dominance will be challenged in 2021. “I’m a big Lewis fan, I think what he’s done in the last few years has been extraordinary and the performance of that team has been amazing,” begins the Aussie. “But I think and hope that Max [Verstappen] will be able to take it to him this year. I know it’s a lean list of people who can challenge, but Max is a very handy character. Overall, Verstappen has to believe this is his best chance ever to at least fight Hamilton to the end of the season.”
Webber doesn’t believe any team can compete with Mercedes-Benz for the championship but is intrigued to see how his old teammate Sebastian Vettel will fare at Aston Martin Cognizant, the new British team, led by billionaire Lawrence Stroll. Vettel won the F1 title four times with Red Bull before switching to Ferrari.
“For Aston Martin, it’s a change of ownership effectively from a team that’s gone though many different guises,” says Webber, who is a testimonee for Rolex, global partner and official timepiece of Formula One. “They’ve punched above their weight for a long time but they should flourish this season. In Sebastian, they have the most experienced driver they’ve ever had and I think he’ll have a spring in his step, plus I know he’ll enjoy the English culture of the team.”
Webber clocked up 215 races across his 11-year career, winning nine times and reaching the podium on 42 occasions. Although Webber never won the title, he finished third three times with Red Bull Racing.
Vettel and Webber were co-drivers at Red Bull between 2009 and 2013 during which time the pair clashed several times. “For every Ferrari driver, one season feels like two seasons because of how hard it is to mentally handle that environment,” says Webber. “Let’s see if Seb can enjoy his driving and threaten the podium early in the season.”
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