x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Title tussle is now between three

Mark Webber, buoyed by his debut win, will only grow. He has just as much chance of catching Jenson Button as Sebastian Vettel - there is no No 1 at Red Bull.

While the notorious Nurburing weather failed to materialise, Mark Webber's maiden win ensured us a gripping German race. Not even a drive-through penalty could halt the Australian's unrelenting victory march; it was undeniably his finest race. After seven and half years and over 130 grands prix, Webber's triumph is well deserved. I often argue that Formula One drivers live in a bubble. They always retain - and have to - the belief a win is destined every time they're on the grid.

However, a driver needs to be able to grab the opportunity when it rises. Mark did that. A first win is all-important in a driver's career. Equally, so is their reaction. While Mark has driven consistently all year, his teammate Sebastien Vettel has led Red Bull's charge. In one race Mark has changed all that. He's thrown the drivers' championship wide open. In Jenson Button, Vettel and Webber, we now have three title hopefuls.

The Red Bull duo have the momentum. Webber, buoyed by his debut win, will only grow. He has just as much chance of catching Button as Vettel - there is no No 1 at Red Bull. I said before the race the pressure on Jenson and the Brawns may prove decisive. So it proved. Red Bull's season has been like a jigsaw. They were quick in Australia's opening race but it took three of four grands prix for the car to really come together. Now it has. The pieces have been collected and Christian Horner, the team principal, is clinically putting them into place.

Brawn seem static and there is concern at Red Bull's increasing prowess. Button's points advantage is being chipped away and he has a real title fight on his hands. The pressure will only grow as the Red Bulls get within striking distance. Their Renault engines are firing and Horner has two intelligent drivers who form an almost perfect pairing. The championship is Button's to lose, but for how much longer? If Webber and Vettel keep delivering the goods in the colder races, Brawn will need to ensure Button and Rubens Barrichello utilise the warmer conditions towards season's end to return optimum performance and maximum points.

However, if key technical developments have made the Red Bull car more competitive in the heat, the Brawns' fragility will be tested further. After finishing sixth at Silverstone and fifth this weekend, Jenson must rediscover his consistency. He needs podium finishes, anything else is not good enough. I believe Barrichello had every right to air his disappointment after driving so well and only finishing sixth.

Brawn's error in re-using what appeared to be a faulty fuel rig was inexplicable, costing the Brazilian a podium. There is no margin for error in a championship tussle and you have to play safe. It may have helped Jenson gain an extra place - most likely not in Brawn's thinking - but it cost Rubens dearly and I feel for him. Rubens knows he's at the end of his racing career and has no wins in a very competitive Brawn car.

His frustration will be growing when the team needs to be united. sports@thenational.ae