Have been loving the conspiracy theories raging around the place in regard to Webber being nobbled by Red Bull. I tend to think that the problem with a conspiracy like this, is that when you try to imagine how it would be carried out, you come to the conclusion that the folks alledgedly doing it would need to be genius's of co-ordination and logistics.
This is not to say that individual acts may not be at play. Images of Marko casually kicking a needed tool under the bench come easily to mind.
But I really cannot come close to accepting that there is a genuine 'slow him down with the machinery' kind of thing going on.
And then you get these little comments being made by the likes of Heidfeld and Button, saying that they can't work out how Webber could be so much slower this year. These guys know Mark well. In Nick's case, they shared a garage for a time, so they really can't be ignored. At least the motivation for them making these comments ought not to be ignored.
So I did some amateur statistical sums to see if I could see any obvious patterns. The answer is of course, none that indicate an even reduction in performance.
However, and this is of course the favourite word to use in such circumstances, there is some information that raises interest.
It's mainly about how the two drivers go over the course of a weekend. For example; Sebastian has out-qualified Mark 7/2. Better than that, his FP3 performance has been 8/1. But if you look at FP1, then you get Mark beating Sebastian 7/2; exactly the opposite of qualifying.
Drill further to the average time difference between the drivers across the sessions:
FP1 - Mark on average faster by 1.43 seconds
FP2 - Sebastian on average faster by 0.14 seconds
FP3 - Sebastian on average faster by 0.14 again
Qualy - Sebastian on average faster by 0.58 seconds
Well then you get the race fastest laps. For that one, it's a bit more even with Mark winning 5 to Sebastian's 4. On average, Mark has been 0.08 seconds faster. You could probably put up a reasonably decent argument that Sebastian has been leading most races and driving only as fast as he needs to in order to win. So what about the races that he didn't win? We should get a fair idea in those ones, because presumably he was driving flat out. There are three of these, and here is the difference in fastest laps between the two drivers:
Shanghai - Webber by 2.3 seconds (tyres were involved)
Canada - Vettel by 2.3 seconds (tricky to guage with all the wet)
Great Britain - Vettel by 0.1 seconds
Not a great data sample, but based on these, you have to say they are about even in the racing, with a slight edge to Mark.
So let us go a little further. What sort of improvement has each driver had over a race weekend...on average? How have their times improved between sessions? over the weekend? from fastest to slowest session?
For this one, we are going to use percentages, because the time to complete a lap varies by a pretty big margin from track to track.
Percentage faster in FP2 compared to FP1: Vettel by 3.6%, compared to Webber at 2.0%. THAT IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE
Percentage faster in FP3 compared to FP2: Vettel by 3.6%, compared to Webber at 3.3%
Percentage faster in Qualy compared to FP3: Vettel by 1.1%, compared to Webber at 1.0%
The difference between the drivers starts off enormous, and then reduces to almost nothing
Percentage faster in Qualy compared to FP1 (two-day spread): Vettel by 5.5%, compared to Webber at 3.5%
Percentage SLOWER in the race compared to Qualy: Vettel by 6.1%, compared to Webber at 5.4%
You could go further and further. for example, you could average out all of the other drivers over the same period and use that as a control sample and measure against that, but whose got the time??
I do think that there is enough there to come to a couple of possible conclusions:
When they unpack the cars Mark is blindingly faster than Vettel. I think they know this, and use Mark as the set-up guy. This was referred to in 2009 when Mark noted that his setup information was being consistently sent across the garage. That would certainly explain the magic improvement for Vettel from FP1 to FP2. And would also explain why the two are very close through the nnext two session.
Vettel's pace in qualifying is unexplainable. You have to conclude this because it is bookended by FP1 (average difference between the drivers 0.14 seconds Vettel), and the race fastest laps (average difference 0.08 Webber). So with a spread of 0.14 Vettel, and 0.08 Webber, how do get completely outside that spread to achieve a faster time of 0.58 to Vettel???
You have to remember that the cars should not change between qualifying and the race. So it is very difficult to put the difference down to something that is done by a third party. If anything were being done, it would have to be a 'tricky switch' of some kind, and if there were one of those, someone would know by now.
So you just have to acknowledge that somehow, Vettel is able to completely lift during qualifying, and having qaulified in front, manages to keep it there with clever racecraft.
You might also acknowledge that without Webber's setup guidance, that Vettel would struggle to get the most out of the car. True? I don't really know, but it would explain why RB keep wanting Webber to re-sign each year.