Q & A with Mark Webber

Mark Webber kicked off his preparations for the Australian Grand Prix with an appearance at the charity Pit Stop Pro Am Tennis Tournament near Albert Park on Tuesday

Q & A with Mark Webber

Despite looking fit and relaxed, it is clear that there are a few frustrations about the state of his Red Bull Racing RB3. But although the man who led last year's race is not expecting a similar performance this weekend, he is far from writing the team's season off.

Autosport.com caught up with Webber to hear how his winter had gone and why he believes the RB3 could be pecking at the heels of the big teams later this year.

Q: Looking ahead to this weekend's Melbourne Grand Prix, what are your feelings? You retired while leading last year. Where realistically can you see yourself finishing?

Mark Webber: Well I hope we finish the race and try and get some points. They are not exactly ambitious goals but that is where we are right now. There are three or four top teams at the moment - Ferrari, McLaren, BMW and Renault. They are all looking solid so that is already eight cars. It is very, very tight at the front, but we want to break into that.

Last year I retired while I was leading the race, and had a good chance to finish third. I still had to make a pit stop but third was definitely on the cards. I would love to be in that position again this year but I probably won't be. But as the season goes on we can definitely make it better. I am not expecting anything amazing but I don't expect to be at the back of the grid either.

Q: What are the weaknesses with the RB3? Are you concerned about reliability, engine power? Where tends to be the issues?

MW: We have still got to make the car a bit stronger aero wise. And we have got to be a bit more reliable.

Q: There were some suggestions that you had some pretty good test days during winter testing, even though the lap times were not good. Is that the impression you got?

MW: I can't recall many positive test days, in terms of pace. We had some good test days for ourselves, but in terms of times no. There is a lot of work to do.

Q: Some of the other teams have obviously got work to do. Where do you pitch yourself and what are you expecting?

MW: A good result for the team, and forget me for a minute, is if we get some points. Then we have got away with something. We have got a long season ahead of us. This is one race of a 17-race championship. There are 17 races we want to do well in and the big picture will come about when we get back to Europe.

Q: Are you more or less upbeat than you were this time last year?

MW: Similar.

Q: So you don't think you've gone backwards?

MW: I retired in the lead here last year!

Q: Jackie Stewart made some comments in Sydney today saying that your car hasn't gone that well in testing...

MW: Well, yeah he is right. He is rarely wrong, JYS. He is right. We have got work to do. He is absolutely fair in his comments. It is so competitive, it always is every year and if you are a little bit off then you are exposed. We are hard on ourselves as a team. We want to go forward and at the moment we are probably outside that group, and it is very easy to be there. You have three or four teams that are doing a really good job and they will be the top ten. Each team has two cars, and it will fill up very quickly. Toyota and probably Honda are two teams that don't meet the expectations they want, and we might be part of that group as well. But as the season goes on it will move around very, very quickly.

Q: Is it disappointing after the optimism after your move?

MW: Yeah. But hey, it is early days. This is the first race. And I have got plenty of time to get it sorted.

Q: Did the latest aero package you ran at Magny-Cours make a big difference?

MW: Mate, the weather was absolutely rubbish. I did four laps on dry tyres and was on inters for the rest of it. The track was freezing. But that's the thing - when the car is late you find yourself at these venues where it is not great.

Q: But are you confident that the package will give you a lap time gain?

MW: I think we are on the fence really still. We didn't go 'bang', but it is better. We were hoping it was going to be a big, big chuck. I think there is still a bit in it, but we will find out here. David (Coulthard) did two runs in the dry and I did one in the dry, so there was no one else running. We did lap times that were similar to the race pace last year at Magny-Cours, but given the 2007 tyres and the change of aero it is hard to say.

Q: How confident are you that things are coming together? Christian Horner said at the Bahrain test that you are working to a schedule that is a month behind where you want to be?

MW: Mate, water under the bridge in this game is water under the bridge. So that probably answers your question. But there are some teams, in terms of gearbox technology and stuff like that, who have probably exhausted their search - so we know we can get some time back on certain things. That is there for us to win, but other teams in the meantime are focusing on more stable projects that will give them continuity and performance, which we are still searching for.

Q: Do you think you can come through this season as the top of the midfield group?

MW: Yes. Yes. Yes. We can. We have got six races, for the three flyaways with two cars, to try and get something out of. Then we can get back to Europe.

Q: How much of these races will be a case of sticking things on the car to see if they can work and help you get some points?

MW: Yeah. Mate, we want the points but we have also got to learn on the field. So that is the thing. We have a big test in Malaysia, and all the tests coming up are big now.

Q: How much do the guys who work on the car know it, because it is obviously so new and they are maybe not used to working on a cutting-edge car?

MW: Testing is not as smooth as we would like. We didn't have an interim rear end before Christmas. So there are lots of things, which we knew. Then there was the engine thing, they tried to get the Renault thing locked away quicker but that didn't happen so that does have a knock-on effect. That does have an affect on your first few grands prix because when you only run for the first time with a brand new car, not an interim, it's going to be hard.

Q: Are you comfortable in the cockpit now?

MW: A lot better mate, yeah. I was in big trouble at the start but I am comfortable and legal now FIA wise. I am a bit high, but I have played that game with my hips before and it is just not worth it.

Q: Bernie Ecclestone has said that he is looking at night races for 2008 - with Australia perhaps being one of the races that he is looking at. What do you think?

MW: That is a brilliant idea. Absolutely brilliant. I think we should race at night. I think he is talking brilliant sense. It would be great for the sport. There will have to be a balance between not having enough lighting and having too much lighting, because you don't want it like daytime. There needs to be some testing done. I know the drivers are not important when it comes to a lot of things, but we probably need to test a few things to work out what is sensible and what is not. We are a part of a show and we want to make it better.

Q: Would it change the way you race at all?

MW: The tracks will be quick - it is the same at Le Mans, when the cars are quicker at night. The engines like it. Night races are good. It would be great in Malaysia actually because it would be cooler then.

Q: Do you think Ferrari are going to disappear on Sunday?

MW: Ferrari were strong in Bahrain last year in relation to other venues, and at the Bahrain test they were quick. I think they will win but I don't think they will destroy everyone. Felipe Massa obviously loves the tyres. Clearly he has had a lot of experience on them. They have used these tyres for the last five years, casing wise, except for the last 12 races last year when they switched across. So as the season goes on you should see, I would hope, other teams getting more of an idea about finding the sweet spot with weight distribution and all that sort of stuff. But Ferrari are strong.

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