For all his formula one career, and before that in lesser open-wheel categories, Mark Webber has silently battled a serious handicap. His size.
Had he won the world drivers' championship in 2010 he would have been the tallest F1 world champion in the history of the sport. Since he began racing as a teenager, the tall and lean Webber has exercised madly and watched his diet carefully to satisfy the whims of race car designers who create their machines around optimum-sized, vertically challenged drivers weighing between 60 and 70 kilos. During his 12-season F1 career, Webber has always done what was expected of him as a well-paid, professional sportsman - he met his team's weight targets. Webber squeezed his 185-centimetre, 75kg body into claustrophobic cockpits in the name of his craft.
At 37, and after half a lifetime eating lettuce leaves, staying on weight is not something he wishes to do any more, or at least to the extent he does now. A comfortable weight for someone of his frame would actually be 82kg. Back when he was a talented teenager with the dreams of making it to the top in motor sport in Europe, I asked him his height. His response: ''I'm not telling you because I don't want it to be an issue when I get to F1.''
Earlier this year he realised that he just didn't want to keep punishing his body to the same extent any longer. And this, folks, is one of the prime reasons he decided to walk away from F1 and go back to sports car racing, where he'll find the cockpit of a Porsche Le Mans car a little more commodious.
RUMBLINGS OVER RICCIARDO
With a few days to digest commentary on the selection of Daniel Ricciardo to replace Webber at Red Bull Racing next season, it seems some European media are a little put out. They tend to believe the wrong Toro Rosso driver was promoted. Or that neither deserved elevation to F1's best team. When Ricciardo and the highly regarded Jean-Eric Vergne landed at Toro Rosso last season, there were plenty of pundits backing the intense, solitary Frenchman to slice and dice the cheerful, diplomatic Australian. Some are now miffed Red Bull's brains trust hasn't followed sage advice dispensed at the start of this season, when many anointed Vergne. Throughout much of last season, the the northern hemisphere experts routinely pointed out that while Ricciardo held the edge in qualifying, Vergne was the better racer. They seem to have ignored the reality this season: Ricciardo has continued his qualifying supremacy and improved his race results. Ricciardo is 13th in the standings on 18 points; Vergne is 15th on 13 points. Yes, it's true to say neither has stood out in, say, the way the rookie Ayrton Senna did in the sluggish Toleman at a saturated Monaco in 1984. Ricciardo has been pacy whenever he's had the opportunity to get into an RBR machine. RBR knows what it's getting with Ricciardo, who acquitted himself wonderfully at a recent Silverstone tyre test. ''Daniel is certainly a very quick racing driver,'' team principal Christian Horner said. ''We had the ability to compare him [Ricciardo] against Sebastian [Vettel], who drove the car the following day, and he acquitted himself well.'' In this computer age, Red Bull has masses of data to help make judgments on drivers. Data traces everything from a driver's throttle technique, braking points, steering-wheel input, to probably his inside-leg measurement.
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