Anthony Davidson predicts Red Bull team orders if Mark Webber runs ahead of Sebastian Vettel in the Korean GP
Sky F1 pundit says even a good Webber start could count for nothing
By James Galloway. Last Updated: 13/10/12 11:58am
Sky Sports F1's Anthony Davidson believes it is likely that Red Bull will impose team orders on Mark Webber to hand victory of the Korean GP to Sebastian Vettel even if the Australian converts his pole into the lead on Sunday.
The two drivers locked out the front row for the second successive weekend for the World Champions in qualifying at Yeongam but surprisingly it was Webber, rather than his team-mate, who produced the quicker lap in the closing stages of Q3 to ensure he will head the front row.
Webber's hopes of challenging his team-mate for victory in Japan last Sunday were scuppered at the second corner when Romain Grosjean ran into his RB8, but the Australian was already falling backwards in wake of a sluggish getaway at the lights.
Poor starts have proved a perennial problem for the 36-year-old and, speaking to Sky Sports News after qualifying, Davidson said that Webber's side of the garage were working hard to improve their driver's getaways and that, on the clean side of the grid on Sunday, it was key he made no mistake this time.
"Pole position is on the outside, so that's the clean part of the track, so realistically you should be hoping for slightly better traction," Anthony told Rachel Brookes.
"I've just been speaking to Mark's race engineer Ciaron Pilbeam and said 'Mark doesn't normally get the best of starts' and I think it was his poor start that got him into trouble at Suzuka with Grosjean and he said 'yeah, I know''. You can even look back to his Jaguar days in Formula 1 where starts were a bit tricky for him. Sometimes it's him, sometimes it's the car, but Ciaron said 'we've looked into it, we're working hard on Mark's starts'.
"The initial uptake of the clutch is good, his reaction from the lights going out, around about two and a half to three tenths of a second in reaction time, is good and matches Vettel. But it's what happens after that which is important and his feeling of the wheelspin and when to apply the KERS - the details of a start - is slightly missing compared to Seb.
"So he's vulnerable at the start but sometimes occasionally he gets it right, so for him hopefully that's tomorrow."
Nonetheless, even if Webber leads the field away and opens up a comfortable lead of the race, Anthony suspects that the Red Bull pitwall will at some stage start to consider the wider implications of the title race if Vettel is running in second.
Although Webber remains in mathematical championship contention - he goes into the race 60 points adrift of Fernando Alonso - Red Bull's realistic hopes of a third successive drivers' title remain firmly with Vettel, who will claim the overall points lead should he win on Sunday.
"In terms of the race, in terms of the championship, I would be surprised if the two Red Bulls were to get away and if it was Webber who was leading Vettel, even by quite a large margin, I would be very surprised if they didn't swap the cars come the end," Anthony predicted.
That suggestion has, however, been firmly rebuffed by Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner who insisted to Sky Sports News that Webber will have an equal chance to win.
Asked by Rachel if the team would impose orders to favour their main title hope Vettel, Horner replied: "No. Both drivers are free to race.
"We ask that they give each other space and the target is for both of them to beat Fernando [Alonso] and score as many points [as possible] in the Constructors' Championship.
"So the target very clearly for the two of them is to maximise the points for the team tomorrow."
Indeed, Horner believes that the RB8 should remain competitive enough in race trim for the team to achieve that particular aim.
"The race is a different kettle of fish but both drivers seem pretty happy with their car, they both seem pretty confident on the long runs," he added.
"We will see. Strategy's going to be crucial. Tyre strategy, tyre wear is a key factor. We believe we're in reasonable shape but you never know until tomorrow afternoon."
Yet on the back of the picture from Friday afternoon's practice session, when McLaren and Ferrari appeared to hold a slight edge over the long runs on the Champions, some observers have suggested Webber and Vettel might not have the race all their own way.
"The truth is we don't [know how much fuel Red Bull were running] but in these cars ten kilos round this track is four tenths for every single lap," Davidson observed. "So if they were running ten kilos less there's your four tenths every single lap which we saw.
"But ultimately it looked pretty close between all of them so that's all we can go on at the moment. What we've seen so far all signs point to the fact that the Red Bull had the speed over the competition in qualifying...but the race pace I think is a different story."
We shall see.