In a season where his team mate has run away with the championship Mark Webber has been left behind; fighting for second place and not reaching the top step so far in 2011.
This can only be frustrating to the gritty Australian, particularly given that he led Vettel through the second half of 2010 up until the last race of the season where Vettel took the Championship. The question then is what has happened to Webber in 2011?
The simple answer is that Sebastian has been faster than Mark this year, however this is the result rather than the reason. Other suggestions may be that Mark has had consistently poor starts or that he just isn't quick enough in qualifying. Again, these may be the result rather than the reason.
The cause of Webber's relative lack of pace seems to be how he uses his tyres compared with how Sebastian uses his tyres. It seems to me that Mark has been working his tyres a fraction too hard.
Mark has always worked his tyres hard. In the days of the grooved tyres, Webber was a standout performer, consistently dragging a lacklustre car into a much higher grid position than the Minardi/Jaguar/Williams/Red Bull deserved. He was simply one of the most proficient drivers at getting those tyres heated quickly. The grooved tyres were a much harder compound than the current slick tyres to support the shoulders of the grooves and maintain the integrity of the grooved profile. Softer compounds would have allowed the plateaued surface of the tyre to collapse into the valleys of the grooves. This harder compound required a lot of heat to be generated quickly in order for the tyre to be in the desired operating temperature. Mark was a master at getting to that temperature within an outlap.
The current slick tyres are much more delicate and require a finer balance. The Ferraris and Saubers have really struggled to get enough heat into the tyres as these teams are notoriously easy on their tyres. Red Bull and McLaren have been consistently at the front of the grid as these cars are much harder on their tyres; a good thing for qualifying but not always good for the race.
The other problems facing Mark in 2011 have been inconsistent KERS and his consistently poor starts.
Mark seemed to bear the brunt of the Red Bull's issues with KERS early in the season, hindering a couple of qualifying sessions and a couple of races. The team seem to have now got a handle on their KERS management.
The race starts are an entirely different story, but again this would appear to be a team issue as both drivers have suffered, although Mark's slightly hotter tyres have resulted in the anti-stall kicking in more often than in Seb's.
Starting an F1 car these days requires the drivers to follow a standard procedure with the variables dialed in via toggles and dials on the steering wheel. The drivers are informed over the radio by their team which settings to select, the amount of revs to hold and that is that. Accordingly, provided the driver follows the instructions, any issue on the start must come down to poor decisions in the garage. Red Bull need to address their starts for next year if not sooner.
Once the starts are sorted out, Mark should have an easier time, but perhaps doing one less burnout than he's told in the meantime in the warm up lap might just do the trick.