Webber back on Ferrari’s radar

UPDATE #8 This rumor is downgraded to 'false' with today's announcement by Red Bull that Webber has been re-signed by them.

07/07/12 (GMM) Having apparently opened the door to a Ferrari deal only 24 hours earlier, Mark Webber has now issued the strongest sign yet he is set to stay at Red Bull.

Bosses Christian Horner and Dr Helmut Marko have hinted they want to keep Webber, who is out of contract at the end of the year, alongside Sebastian Vettel in 2013.

But Australian Webber, 35, had admitted to having some "light" talks with rival teams, with the biggest rumor indicating a move alongside his friend Fernando Alonso at Ferrari.

On Saturday at Silverstone, however, the Monaco winner suggested that if Red Bull wants to keep him, he might not be wise to abandon a winning team.

"Exactly," he told the Melbourne newspaper Sunday Age. "If they want me, which I think they do."

07/07/12 (GMM) Mark Webber has done little to quell rising speculation he could move to Ferrari at the end of the season.

Amid talk he is either close to re-signing with Red Bull for another season, or moving to Ferrari to replace Felipe Massa, all he would say at Silverstone is that decision-time is "getting closer".

It sounds as though Red Bull wants him to stay as Sebastian Vettel's teammate. Spain's AS newspaper says it's a done deal.

"We're reaching the time of year when you sit down to talk about the future," boss Christian Horner is quoted by Tuttosport.

"Mark is driving very well this year and he's in great shape," he added.

35-year-old Webber, however, admitted he has been talking to some other teams.

"It's been pretty light," he told the BBC.

It is rumored Webber has been given the 'green light' to make the Ferrari move by his friend Fernando Alonso.

"I know Fernando reasonably well; I wouldn't say extremely well," Webber insisted.

If they do pair up next year, the Australian suggested any friendship would likely end anyway.

"It's that ego thing — we drivers are all a bit precious and it all kicks off. Let's see," he said.

"I've made the decision I want to carry on. I'm motivated and hungry. Now I have to go and find some work."

Mark Webber still calling Ferrari rumors rubbish

06/15/12 (GMM) Mark Webber has denied he has had any contact with Ferrari about filling Felipe Massa's seat next year.

Nevertheless, F1's rumor mill continues to find fuel.

"Every man and his dog has been linked, from Sebastian (Vettel) to Lewis (Hamilton) to myself — all sorts of drivers," he told the Melbourne tabloid Herald Sun.

The 35-year-old Australian has had only single-year contracts at Red Bull for the past few seasons, and another one for 2013 appears on the cards.

"I think we've done a lot together," Webber said.

But with some better recent form in his pocket, including a second win on the streets of prestigious Monaco, the veteran of approaching 200 grands prix admits to feeling "really relaxed".

"It's a good problem to have if there's some other people interested," said Webber.

"Ferrari, I haven't heard from them myself, but people want to speculate."

He said Massa has had a "rough run" so far in 2012, and does not deny that the seat opposite Fernando Alonso at F1's most famous team is an attractive one.

"It's not just another team," said Webber of Ferrari. "Everyone knows that."

But he warned the rumor-mongers to keep calm.

"I spoke to McLaren years ago. Didn't happen," said Webber. "I'm very happy at Red Bull.

"This is part of F1 — there's always going to be rumors and speculation. But, at the end of the day, I think I've driven for two teams in the past seven years. I've been pretty stable."

Webber denied the fact he is reportedly 'good mates' with Alonso could increase his chances of a Ferrari deal.

"I haven't had one dinner with Fernando, socially. I don't know what 'good mates' relates to," he said.

"We get on well, we talk to each other. Most drivers don't even do that, so I suppose they think we get along like a house on fire," he smiled.

One of his bosses, Dr Helmut Marko, hinted this week that Red Bull is not inclined to break up a winning team, even if Webber's relationship with Vettel has not always been roses.

"Obviously, Sebastian and I have been settled now for a long time," Webber agreed. "We know each other well."

05/26/12 (GMM) Mark Webber has moved to rubbish speculation he might be in line to replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari.

The Australian has only a one-year contract with Red Bull, although team figures have indicated a new deal for the 35-year-old is likely.

Webber scoffed at the Ferrari rumors.

"It's like someone clicks a switch in May and says, 'Oh, Mark's off to Ferrari'," he said, with the Evening Standard revealing Webber shook his head whilst answering.

"I'm used to this stuff … I'd say 80 per cent of what you hear is bulls**t."

Webber admitted he might have been close to retirement at the end of last season, following a difficult campaign when his teammate Sebastian Vettel utterly dominated.

"I was cooked, mate," he said. "At the end of last year, I needed to recalibrate and reset.

"As a sportsman I was a bit burnt out."

His season-ending victory in Brazil, however, was a good foundation to bounce back.

"The best winter I've ever had, mate," said Webber. "I felt like I was flying after it."

As for who will be champion at the end of topsy-turvy 2012, he insisted: "Not a clue mate. Me."

05/03/12 Ferrari knows that it needs more points than it is scoring at the moment from its second car. Last year Felipe Massa scored only 45% of Fernando Alonso’s points tally. This season so far, described as make or break for Massa by both team boss Stefano Domenicali and Ferrari president Luca Montezemolo, Massa has 4% of Alonso’s points.

And so rumors have begun to swirl again about the possibility of Ferrari hiring Mark Webber to partner Alonso on a short term contract.

The story originated in Spain’s El Confidential, which claimed that the deal was already done and it has been fanned by the Australian media.

Webber, 35, addressed the rumors in a media briefing last night in Mugello. He said that he had not signed anything, but stopped short of denying that there was anything going on.

“Sergio was flavor of the month last week for the Ferrari drive; now it’s me," Webber said. “I’m focusing 100 per cent on this season and doing the best job for myself and Red Bull Racing. I’m not putting any energy into anything else. We have a whole season ahead before you start thinking about our future. One day there is talk that Jenson (Button) will go to Ferrari, then Sergio, now me.

“I have not signed anything. Just think about my team. We have made a good start to the season, we’ve done only four races and the road is still very, very long before you start talking about the future."

I’ve written about this before, several times. There has been contact in the past between the two and Webber has been on Ferrari’s radar for a number of reasons; he gets on well with Fernando Alonso and is liked by Stefano Domenicali and others, he’s uncomplicated and he’s fast. He also has a lot of experience and solid engineering understanding, both of which Ferrari prize.

Many people assume that Sergio Perez is the natural choice for the Ferrari team, as he has been groomed by them in much the same way that Felipe Massa was. His berth at Sauber is part of that time-honored process, and Perez is also a member of the Ferrari Driver Academy. However the Mexican still has a lot to prove. He is only 22 and has only one year’s worth of experience and it is not Ferrari’s way to sign drivers without quite a lot more experience than that. Massa was a bit of an exception, coming to them at 25 after three seasons with Sauber from 2002 to 2005. He also had a stint as Ferrari test driver in the days when that meant covering a serious mileage.

For Perez to be ready for Ferrari will take at least another year if not two. So it is logical, if Ferrari is thinking of dropping Massa, that it should look for a solution for the next two years and Webber is the obvious choice. He is on a rolling one year contract, keeping his options open on both sides.

There are two obvious question marks; he is a very competitive individual, so the thought of moving from Red Bull to Ferrari, if it is not a competitive car, would require some reflection. But as a keen student of the sport’s history, he may feel that with one or two years of his career left, a stint at Ferrari would add a prestigious cap to his career.

There is also the question of “not bad for a number two driver" – Webber’s famous line from the British Grand Prix of 2010 where he was disadvantaged by the team when they gave his front wing to team mate Vettel. This side of Webber is not compatible with the “Fernando is faster than you" school of management at Ferrari, to quote engineer Rob Smedley’s line when asking Felipe Massa to move aside for his team mate in Germany in 2010. Alonso is clearly the point man at Ferrari and Webber would have to find a way of fitting in with that.

Leaving aside those philosophical issues, let’s examine the practicalities. Webber’s position at Red Bull is underpinned by the support of two key people in the team; Adrian Newey and the owner Dietrich Mateschitz. Newey knows him as a reference point and trusts his instincts, while Mateschitz has always supported Webber and has a strong personal relationship with the driver. Webber does his deals direct with the boss.

Others within Red Bull are more keen to see new drivers come into the team, primarily Helmut Marko, who is responsible for the young driver development program. For this program to maintain its legitimacy and credibility it needs to produce another top quality driver from Toro Rosso, ready to drive a Red Bull. By abruptly dropping Jaime Alguersuari and Sebastien Buemi last Christmas they left themselves in a position where they have two inexperienced drivers in the Toro Rosso team, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne. It would be asking a lot of either of them to step up to Red Bull alongside Vettel next year.

Vettel himself took that path but he had done 26 races, many of them in a competitive 2008 Toro Rosso by the time he moved up. Ricciardo has done 15 GPs to date, mostly at the back of the field and will have done 31 by the time this season ends, whereas Vergne is in his first season of F1 and has twice failed to get out of Q1. It would be a gamble to go with either man to sit alongside Vettel, who is a two times world champion at the top of his game in a team built around him.

Webber is on a rolling one year contract and common sense would suggest that Red Bull would be thinking of promoting one of the Toro Rosso drivers in 2014 rather than 2013. But a move by Webber towards Ferrari might force the issue. James Allen on F1

05/02/12 (GMM) Mark Webber has denied signing with the Ferrari team for 2013.

Spanish media reports, indicating that a letter of intent may already have been written, said Fernando Alonso favors Australian Webber to replace the struggling Felipe Massa.

The reports also said Webber, 35 and with an expiring Red Bull contract, could be signed for a single season ahead of Sergio Perez joining in 2014.

"Sergio was flavor of the month last week for the Ferrari drive; now it's me," Webber said at the Mugello test on Tuesday.

"I'm focusing 100 per cent on this season and doing the best job for myself and Red Bull Racing. I'm not putting any energy into anything else."

Italian-language reporters also quote Webber as saying: "There's a whole season ahead of us before we need to think about the future.

"One day the talk is about Jenson (Button joining Ferrari), then it's Sergio, now it's me. I haven't signed anything."

"My focus is on this team (Red Bull); we've had a good start to the season, we're only four races down and the road is very, very, very long before we start talking about the future."

As for the closely-contested 2012 championship, Webber added: "The grid is very close together.

"Sebastian (Vettel) had a weekend without problems in Bahrain and won but he didn't dominate, and that's the same for everyone.

"No one will be dominant in the first half of the season, so to be third at the start of the European season is not bad," he said.

05/01/12 (GMM) More reports are suggesting Mark Webber could be Ferrari-bound.

One of Spain's leading F1 correspondents, Raymond Blancafort, wrote in El Mundo Deportivo that "there may be a pre-contract" between the Maranello based team and Red Bull's experienced Australian driver.

Webber, 35, was also linked with Ferrari last year, before Red Bull decided to sign him up for another single season alongside Sebastian Vettel.

He is now touted as Felipe Massa's 2013 replacement, not only because of his "experience (and) the consistency of his results" but because "he gets along" with number one driver Fernando Alonso, Blancafort said.

Flavio Briatore also manages both Alonso and Webber.

Following Blancafort's claims, Spain's El Confidencial is now reporting similarly.

The publication said Webber has been earmarked as Alonso's ideal teammate for 2013, perhaps pre-dating Sergio Perez's move to the team in 2014 when the young Mexican has gathered another season of experience.

That may mean yet another single-season deal for Webber, but it might be better than what he is offered by Red Bull, given the energy drink-owned team's grooming of youngsters Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne at Toro Rosso.

El Confidencial said Webber is also Spaniard Alonso's first choice, with a source saying a deal has been "already reached but not signed", possibly therefore in the form of a letter of intent.

04/30/12 (GMM) Mark Webber might have signed a pre-contractual agreement with Ferrari, one of Spain's leading F1 correspondents has revealed.

Raymond Blancafort, writing for El Mundo Deportivo, referred to widespread speculation in the paddock about Sergio Perez's likely future alongside Fernando Alonso.

"There may be a pre-contract," he said, "but between Ferrari and Webber."

Australian Webber was also linked with Ferrari last year, before Red Bull decided to sign him up for another single season.

The 35-year-old was overshadowed by his teammate Sebastian Vettel last year, but he has begun the 2012 season more strongly.

And Webber warned before the 2012 season began that if Red Bull didn't re-sign him for 2013, "I'd need something (else) competitive (to drive)".

"Being at the front, is certainly a big, big factor of me staying very hungry and motivated."

Ferrari may be looking to replace Alonso's current teammate, the struggling team veteran Felipe Massa, for 2013.

"They (Ferrari) would be able to take advantage of his (Webber's) experience, the consistency of his results and the fact that he gets along with Alonso.

"Interestingly, Webber is also still involved with Flavio Briatore", as is Alonso, Blancafort noted.

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