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F1's joker in the pack: How Webber reinvented himself

Australian driver Mark Webber  is second in the world championship after his win at Silverstone.

Story highlights

  • Mark Webber is coming out from behind the shadow of teammate Sebastian Vettel
  • Red Bull's veteran Australian is second in the world championship standings
  • He signed a new one-year contract after winning the British Grand Prix two weeks ago
  • Ferrari's Fernando Alonso leads drivers' standings ahead of Sunday's German Grand Prix

Does anyone really want to be Fernando Alonso's teammate at Ferrari? Okay, it won't be like it was with Michael Schumacher between 1996 and 2006 when he was the undisputed number one in the team, but whoever ends up there will be playing -- at best -- second fiddle.

Perhaps that's one of the reasons why Mark Webber, who was touted as a possible Ferrari driver, has signed up to race alongside two-time Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel for another year at Red Bull.

Webber led for much of the 2010 world championship only to lose out to Vettel at the season's end, but last year he was completely overshadowed: one win to the German's 11, and that came in the final grand prix when his younger teammate had a gearbox problem and let him through.

This year, though, he's had the measure of Vettel -- he's 16 points ahead in second place overall after heading off Alonso and Vettel to win the British Grand Prix, and he's arguably getting on better with this year's Red Bull.

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You'd put your money on the Australian having a better race than his 25-year-old colleague at this weekend's German Grand Prix. And that's before you look at Vettel's record in his home event, which consists of two podiums, but no win.

Rewind to 2009, and this race is where Webber won his very first grand prix at the age of 32 -- though that year it was held at Nurburgring; this weekend it will be at Hockenheim, as the venues alternate.

Red Bull's designer Adrian Newey admitted that Webber was absolutely gutted to miss the championship in 2010, so much so that he brought some of that negative feeling into the next season. However, the reason for his troubles last year were even more basic than that.

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2011 was the year of the exhaust-blown diffuser -- a system whereby the designers managed to get the exhausts to "blow" over the rear diffuser even when the driver didn't have their foot on the throttle. This created a significant amount of downforce and extra grip, meaning the cars cornered like they were on rails and the drivers got less feedback through the steering wheel.

Webber wasn't a fan, unlike Vettel -- who changed his style to suit the new characteristics.

Not only did Webber struggle to get the best out of the super-grippy car, but he also found the Pirelli tires difficult. If you're up against one of the best drivers in the world as your teammate, you don't need problems like that. Sure enough he was regularly over half a second off Vettel's pace, and that -- in F1 terms -- is an age.

Webber signs one-year Red Bull extension

This year the exhaust-blown diffusers have been banished from the sport, as have Webber's troubles. Yes, the Pirelli tires continue to confound the drivers because of their complexity, but what the 35-year-old does have is that "feel" back from the steering wheel.

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It may sound like a weak excuse, but in order to gain that last percent of performance in F1, drivers need to balance the car on a knife-edge. If you aren't aggressive enough you'll tumble down the time sheets; if you fall the other side of the blade, you'll rumble into the barriers. Part of that balance is being able to feel every minute detail of what the car is.

Unlike 2011, this year is not all about the speed of the Red Bull, though. The German Grand Prix will not just be a two-horse race between Webber and Vettel.

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Ferrari has managed to transform its car into a competitive machine after a slow start to the season, and McLaren should improve following a "crisis meeting" after the British Grand Prix.

Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button finished down in eighth and 10th at Silverstone, soundly beaten by both the Lotus cars, which is not where they expected to be. There's a limit to what a team can do in two short weeks in order to turn their fortunes around, but McLaren is the best in the business when it comes to in-season development.

When the lights go out at the start of the race on Sunday, Webber will -- qualifying problems aside -- be feeling confident. And rightly so.