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I was reading James Allen’s story about the poor starts for Mark Webber in 2011.  We’ve mused about the reasons and offered them as tangible examples of why Mark isn’t closer to Vettel this year as he was in 2010.

It’s an interesting read as Red Bull’s Christian Horner explains to James some of the reasons Mark has struggled.  Most germane to the issue is this:

“Well you have two clutches, so the driver will release one lever and then feed in the other,” explained Horner. “So how they prepare the clutch on the way to the line is important, the engineers give them instructions on the number of burn-outs they need to do. They rehearse religiously to get the clutch clean – the best it can be for the start.

“Then it’s about matching the torque demand from the engine, through the clutch bite point and synchronising that. The drivers have the throttle position which they manage with the foot, then with the clutch he needs to keep his arm light, dumping one lever, feeding in the other one. At the same time he has to use his mirrors to see what’s around him.

“It’s very easy to overslip the tyres, creating wheel spin. It’s easy to underslip, where the engine bogs down and you have a bunny-hop start.

“So it’s a very small window that you are operating in.

“Mark’s had some good starts, unfortunately the bad starts have been when he’s been right up the front.”

The dual-clutch program with matching engine revs and the possibility for error seem incredibly tight.  So tight that Horner suggested teammate Sebastian Vettel nearly had a similar start at Spa if it were not for an additional 100 revs the Renault engine was delivering at launch.

That’s a very narrow window for we, as fans, to understand.  Then again, maybe it isn’t.  We’ve grown accustomed to F1 being measured down to the gnats behind and this is really just another example of how critical the numerical side of F1 is.

With all starting procedures, revs and other mathematical nonsense aside—do we really think Mark is struggling with the precision of the start process so much more than Vettel in 2011?  How different is the procedure than in 2010?

The argument also is interesting to me in that we hear many fans wondering just why Webber is so far behind Vettel and few are offering, what may be the real truth, the notion that Vettel is just that much better this year than last…that the young man from Germany may, in fact, be the real deal.

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An F1 fan since 1972, NC has spent over 25 years in the technology industry and as a CTO, he focuses on technology integration in commercial workspace design, AV systems integration, digital media strategies, technology planning, consulting, speaking, presenting, sales, content strategy, marketing and brand building.
  • gsprings

    seems like webber is happy with just getting good points,i don’t think he has the fire in him to win a wdc anymore,the guy has not even won one race in that good car,not good,but redbull is happy with mark,so i guess it’s all good

    • The theory being that driver’s measure themselves against their teammate but this year is no contest between the two. Is there a reason? Is it the starts? The pace? One thing I see very little of is the case being made for Vettel instead of the excuses being offered for Webber. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Mark a lot but perhaps we’re missing a bigger picture here?

      • I guess we are missing some (hidden) details, indeed.
        Since I can’t comment at James Allen, for some reason (maybe he disagrees with me?), I can certainly tell: the Horner words don’t explain the real problem, it’s just a smoke curtain.
        I’d also agree on the count: what’s different in 2011?
        1. Tires;
        2. Weight distribution;
        3. That’s all, folks?

        I don’t blame anyone for anything, just being curious about these start procedures. I would think that there’s more than purely technical details, but rather a psychological ones, too.

    • Matt

      “has not won one race in that good car”. Hmm, who won monaco last year again?

      • UAN

        not to speak for GSP, but I think he’s referring to this year. Mark won 4 races last year. And for all the commentary by folks saying that it’s all the car and not the driver as a way to minimize Vettel, Webber really is the weakness in the argument, unless Webber just totally sucks and shouldn’t be driving in F1. And I don’t think anyone would say that.

        As for Webber’s starts, having recently watched many of the races from 2008, bad starts seem to be a common theme with Webber.

        • Maybe it’s the extra weight Webber carries around, being a large lad. Sure he’s gaunt to the point of needing a good feed :) but he’s still somewhat signicantly (in F1 terms) heavier and taller than his teammate.

          Ok ok I’m making up excuses :) if they all weigh the same, with ballast, then perhaps it’s that inability to place the ballast where it’s best utilised?

  • Anon

    I get your point here, Todd. With Ayrton Senna as his teammate at Williams in 1996, Damon Hill sure wouldn’t have been World Champion … and that’s not saying any bad thing about Damon Hill, it’s the other way round.

  • Dave Wilson

    Its like golf.. Webber has dropped a stroke and Vettel has picked one up, that is a two stroke swing..

  • gsprings

    would be a shame if webber does not pick up at least one win,you would think he would have gotten one of those races vettel did’nt win

  • Downforce

    What a bunch of Horner Hooey,this info from Horner stinks a bit like something from a cattle ranch. One driver can work the gadgets and another cannot? Just my F1 opinion.

  • While it’s particularly striking this year, Webber last year also had a more than normal number of botched starts, so part of the explanation must be sought with the nut behind the wheel.

  • js213

    I watch the BBC broadcasts, so I don’t know if it’s been mentioned on Speed, but DC has noted on a number of occasions that Mark’s RPMs drop considerably right before the lights go out. This seems to happen on the starts where he bogs down. DC and Brundle always question what’s going on when they see that happen, so it doesn’t sound like it is normal procedure with releasing the first clutch. It sounds more like Mark is lifting off the throttle slightly, but I don’t know why he would do that.

  • Williams4Ever

    Bridgestone vs. Pirelli and how drivers have come to terms with it has a lot to do with it. The drivers who have brilliant starts don’t necessarily have to be doing great. e.g. Massa, Schumi seem to have been making brilliant starts, but in 3-4 laps seems to be loosing bite on their Pirelli Tyres.

    Tyre management holds the key in motorsports and F1. Michelin-Bridgestone rivalry was good example on how tyres could make difference to car performance.

    Maybe Mark Hughes can do some assessment on how the drivers/car of the front running teams worked with Pirellis, who improvised as the season progressed and who didn’t would be interesting study.

    • UAN

      Tire management is important, but so is track position. If you’re starting P1 and are P3 at the end of the first turn, your race is seriously compromised, especially if your tire management with the Pirellis (in the case of Webber) is poor.

    • MIE

      With Vettel being the only driver to visit Pirelli over the winter (all were invited, but only one made the effort), I can well beleive that he has a better understanding of what the tyres need than Webber (or any other driver).

      More importantly in my opionion, Vettel is just getting better. He may have won a world championship already, but he is still young and developping as a driver. He has impressed me throughout the year and seems to be improving race on race.

      Despite all the talk about him cracking under pressure, he has only finished once off the podium and is the only driver to have scored points in every race this year. At a time when he could settle for fourth or fifth position in the remaining races and still win the championship, he is prepared to put two wheels on the grass to pass Alonso. If Newey can give him the car, I think we could be in for a period of Schumacher like domination, but without the driver controversy.

      • Williams4ever

        Naaah when Vettel wins, its just about the car. If it is one of the more likeable drivers its more about the driver skills than the car.

      • UAN

        “With Vettel being the only driver to visit Pirelli over the winter (all were invited, but only one made the effort)…”

        That says a lot and may actually say it all.

  • first350

    The gap between Vettel and Webber is not Webber’s poor starts or sub-par driving…Vettel is just perfect this year – he’s incredibly fast (both Qual and race), and is just driving really smart (gets a good lead to deny DRS, and then maintains his margin and watches his tires). Further, Vettel has done this for every race…not a single DNF!

  • UAN

    Here’s an article out of Australia with Mark’s own explanations for his poor starts: http://www.smh.com.au/sport/motorsport/webber-challenge-at-the-start-grid-20110916-1kdsz.html.

    He says a driver has a lot of things to coordinate in a very short period of time and you only get one chance to do right and it’s very public when you don’t. In a nut shell, he says it’s really hard to do so don’t hold it against him.

  • rastapete

    “…the young man from Germany may, in fact, be the real deal.”

    Is there anyone (rational) left who remains unconvinced?

  • It’s a weak arguement, really. No matter how complicated it is, it’s the same (isn’t it?) for everyone else and they manage.