With accusations of Formula One becoming boring and predictable, Mark Webber believes a burgeoning rivalry between Mercedes team-mates Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg is healthy for the sport.
The Australian, who retired from F1 in 2013 after 11 seasons, believes the rapidly increasing nature of the rivalry is borne out of mutual respect for one another, but doesn’t think it will ever become as bitter as the famously fractious relationship between Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost.
The 38-year-old enjoyed his own heated rivalry with four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel during their time at Red Bull, reaching an all-time low in Malaysia in 2013 when Vettel flouted team orders not to overtake Webber, who was coasting to victory at Sepang.
Webber, now an F1 ambassador and speaking at the artist reveal and sporting announcement for this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in Dubai yesterday, says the two are now on good terms and he hopes Ferrari can challenge Mercedes’ dominance this season.
Speaking about the Hamilton/Rosburg relationship, Webber said rivalries are always going to develop in any sport between the very best competitors.
“I think the rivalries, definitely, are borne out of the respect for each other,” he said.
“If you’re operating on a similar level and, in this case, they’re in the same team together, you see that in lots of different sports. “Normally, the hardest guys to beat, the rivalries build, whether it’s football or any sport. Look at (Manny) Pacquiao and (Floyd) Mayweather. There’s a rivalry there because they want to beat each other.
— Ayrton Fan (@F1_AyrtonSenna) April 15, 2015
“Now with Nico and Lewis, the rivalry has to be there and hung onto from a media perspective because it’s important for the sport that Lewis isn’t going to be running away.
“Look at the momentum Lewis has from last year to this year. He’s on fire and driving really well. Nico’s got to find whatever way he can, whatever it is, to get himself back performing.
“If he’s executing his maximum, then that’s his maximum, but in his own words he’s knows he’s just got to find that step more to beat Lewis.”
And, amid unrest among fans and throughout motor racing circles of F1 no longer capturing the imagination, the nine-time F1 race winner says such rivalries are what fuel the sport.
He said: “Of course. Absolutely (it’s good for the sport). Last year it was just the two of them fighting for the championship. It was a great rivalry and it went down to the last round, which was awesome.
“What could happen that’s too far? They might have a bit of contact on the track, that’s fine, that’s racing.
“I don’t think it will go back to the Prost/Senna days. They were extremely intense and the rivalry was incredibly deep and they had a long history. I don’t think that will be repeated.”
The relationship between Webber and Vettel became strained after the pair crashed into each other in the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix, but the Australian said he text the German after he claimed an “impressive” victory for new team Ferrari in Malaysia at the end of March.
“I’m on pretty good terms with Seb,” said Webber.
“We were in touch after he won in Malaysia. It looked like he was back (to his best). My message to him was ‘looks like your back to your old days you b******’.
“I’d like to see him do well this season. Just for the sport it’s good to have Ferrari up there. I think there might even be a little of Fernando’s work in there. Fernando left, it’s not just like you turn up and click your fingers and the car’s fast.
“Kimi (Raikkonen) and Seb are quality drivers. That’s why they’ve been in this sport so long. Seb’s got a lot longer to go but the quality guys are always towards the front and have long careers, so it’s good to see the good guys getting the results.”
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