The sports blog: ‘Mark, maintain the gap’

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IF Mark Webber had any preconceived ideas that he was on a level playing field at Red Bull Racing, then he was told in no uncertain terms that was not the case at the British Grand Prix, writes Tock Lock.

Team orders in the sport have always been controversial – fans have felt robbed of a spectacle and drivers have felt robbed of positions – but it gives us journalists something to write about I suppose.

Sebastian Vettel is one of the best out there at the moment. I’d rank him in the top three alongside Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso for all out pace and ability. But with Vettel’s lead over the rest of the pack ever growing race by race, was it really necessary for boss Christian Horner to ask Webbo to stay behind in case the golden boy lost three valuable points?

Silverstone, of course, was the scene of Webber’s infamous ‘not bad for a number two’ remark last season, but this year he has cemented himself in that role by failing to beat his team mate in nearly 12 months.

The Australian had a great season in 2010 – but in my opinion, he batted far higher than his average in the incredible RB6.

Webber has always been a ‘nearly man’ in the same vein David Coulthard, Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger all were, and people like Felipe Massa and Rubens Barrichello still are. Webber had a great season, yes, but frankly, that’s about it. The title was there for him to lose, and he did. But critically, he lost it to his team mate.

We’ve seen this ‘nearly man’ syndrome before. Take Eddie Irvine for example. Eddie drove for Ferrari for three years as a clear number two to Michael Schumacher, and everyone accepted that as part of the show.

In 1999, his fourth season with Ferrari, he won his first race in Australia (largely because everyone ahead of his broke down or crashed) and was having a half decent season in a cracking car.

But at Silverstone (again), Schumacher speared off the circuit and broke his leg, promoting Eddie to number one status in the team. He was given all the perks, the new parts, the backing of the whole team and took the title race to the last round in Japan.

Here, though, is where Irvine and Webber differ, and I suppose Red Bull and Ferrari differ also. Eddie had the presence of mind to say no to number two status and left Ferrari. He was given a taste of the glory that could have been his, but knew it would never happen again with Schumacher fit, and he jumped ship to Jaguar (who were later to become RBR).

Webber, on the other hand, has decided to stick with the Tilbrook team, who are determined not to tarnish the Aussie with the same ‘number two’ brush Irvine had to live with, and both parties admit they are likely to stick with each other for 2012 too.

But after being told to stay behind Vettel when he was obviously faster and capable of more than his ailing team-mate, why oh why would Webber think that Red Bull is the place for him next season?

He’s clearly not number one and never will be as long as the young German is around. Vettel will also get the favours to help him to another world title, and frankly Webber’s just not as quick as him.

Perhaps Mark believes, and possibly quite rightly, that Red Bull is the best place for him to at least be in the scrap for race wins, but with equal machinery, Vettel will have him on toast nine times out of ten.

At 34, Webber can see his chances of a world title slowly ebbing away and the battle to be in the right car at the right time is sometimes half the battle in F1.

But you can’t fluke an F1 title, you need all the help you can get. And if one driver is getting more help than another, there is only ever going to be one winner. And the longer Webber stays with Red Bull, the more likely it is that Vettel will be that winner.