"There are only two drivers in this paddock who are the total package," Minardi's Paul Stoddart states. One of them is, of course, Michael Schumacher – "clearly the greatest of all times – whether people want to believe it or not, it's a simple fact of life." And the other? "And the only other person who is 110%, who lives, breathes and thinks Formula One, Formula One, Formula One is Mark Webber."
The recent announcement that Williams had signed Mark Webber to drive for the team for three years from 2005 may have surprised some of the fans of the sport, but those who have worked with the Australian in his almost three years as a racer in Formula One have never had any doubt about his abilities, in and out of the car.
"That's the difference," Stoddart, who was Webber's boss in his racing debut year at Minardi, in 2002, continues, "it's that total, total commitment in everything he does, whether it's the Olympic fitness level standards he achieves, whether it's the way that he cannot focus on anything else on his life - that's what makes a driver great. And obviously he has to have talent, but there's no doubt about that. I think Mark is going to go on to do some pretty great things - he needs a team that gives him a winning car, and I think Williams will do that. I can see that Mark will emerge as the most serious challenger for the World Championship, and I think he will achieve it."
But what is it that marks Webber out from the rest? What is it that has every single person asked about Webber looking for more superlatives? Everyone at Jaguar notes that he is particularly good at his job - the marketing people are happy to have someone as well presented as Webber; the physiotherapist notes his astonishing fitness; the race engineer states his feedback is precise and accurate. But, ultimately, these aren't the reasons why Webber is rated so high in the Formula One paddock.
As his manager Flavio Briatore succinctly notes: "it is always important what he does on the track, because in the end that's what it is about." And what Webber has been able to do on track, in a Minardi and a Jaguar, has been good enough to earn him a drive with the team that has the highest race winning average per start of them all, in the expectation that he will keep that record intact.
Against the Odds
Webber grew up in Queanbeyan, a small town notable only for being the last town on the way to Canberra, the capital of Australia which was built between Sydney and Melbourne when neither city would agree on the other becoming the nation's capital. His father Al owned, and owns, a small Yamaha bike store which gave the young Mark access to the minibikes which were his access to the world of speed that drew him away from rugby, cricket and the other, more usual, Australian sports.
Getting his first kart at the age of fourteen Webber quickly discovered the world he was to focus on, and progressed through the various levels of competitions, winning the New South Wales Karting Championship in 1993 which, ironically, has proven to be the last championship he has won, so far. He then moved up to cars the next year, competing in Australian Formula Ford, but more importantly he met the person who was to have the biggest influence on his career, and perhaps his life – Ann Neal.
Neal was the first person to see the true potential in Webber, and as his personal manager and mentor she was able to convince him that his future lay in a move to Britain. "We had a plan," Webber reflects back on the time, "in 1995 we wrote a plan that we wanted to be in Formula One in 2001, to take sort of six or seven years to get into Formula One, and we were one year out. But it's very easy to have a plan on a piece of paper!"
Neal and Webber moved to Britain and started knocking on doors. Over the next couple of years he would sign with the Van Diemen team and win the Formula Ford Festival, come second in the British and third in the European Formula Ford Championships, and win on debut at Spa. Testing for Alan Docking Racing ten days after winning the Festival, he impressed the team boss enough to be signed as the team leader for 1997 in Formula 3, with two inexperienced Japanese drivers alongside him, despite only having a small amount of support from Yellow Pages Australia.
"I suppose it started to kick in around Formula 3," Webber recalls, "thinking 'okay, this is quite a serious category, there are some serious drivers here, and if you start to go well in that then maybe you can be alright' – Formula Ford is maybe a little early." Five podiums, including another win at Brands Hatch, put him first of the ‘privateer' drivers in the Championship, behind the two Stewart drivers and between the two Promotecme Renaults.
Another podium, this time at the Marlboro Masters in Zandvoort, drew the attention of Mercedes, who were in the process of restarting the programme that had previously pushed Michael Schumacher, Heinz Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger all the way up to Formula One. The chance to finally make a living from the sport, as well as to follow in the footsteps of Schumacher himself, the man he admired more than anyone in motorsport, was too good to ignore. 1998 saw Webber competing in the FIA GT Championship, which came down to the final round, with Webber finishing eight seconds behind then-teammate Ricardo Zonta.
"But you've still got a number of obstacles after that," Webber says. "A lot of hurdles that you're faced with, and yeah, you've got to stick to a plan – there were a few derailings happen!"
Remaining with AMG Mercedes the next year, this time as team leader, gave Webber the opportunity of competing at the Le Mans 24 Hour race, a dream which turned to a nightmare as his car somersaulted twice in practice. Thinking it was Webber's fault, the team entered the race, remaining until his teammate also somersaulted five hours in; they withdrew the remaining car immediately in disgrace.
"But everything happens for a reason, and you've got to grab the opportunities that come along with both hands in any sport," the Australian says. "I've been very fortunate, but also I've had to perform on certain occasions very quickly to keep myself in the hunt."
Turning their back on sports cars, Neal took Webber to Silverstone and introduced the driver to fellow countryman Paul Stoddart - then in his first year in Formula 3000 with European Formula Racing. It was to be a fortuitous meeting for both men. "We agreed to a first Pembrey test," Stoddart notes, "and you could just see there was something there, that this guy was good." Webber got the drive for 2000.
"It was only our second year in the Championship and he took us to third place," Stoddart recalls, "and third place in the Championship in those days was a serious achievement because the teams were so much more competitive than they are now, and there were so many more teams. Mark showed something that only comes along every now and again, which is a special talent."
At the start of the year the team had linked with the Arrows Formula One outfit, with an option of Webber's services, but the relationship between team bosses soured and a test drive never came to fruition. At this time, Benetton came into the picture.
"Everybody knows I had a few run ins with Tom [Walkinshaw] that year," Stoddart explains. "Mark had a tough choice to make, together with Ann and his father, about whether to go with Flavio or to stay it alone. I wasn't so sure it was [the right thing to do] at the time, but it has turned out to be the right choice."
Webber signed a contract with Briatore as his contract manager, and with that came a test drive at Benetton and a race seat with Super Nova in Formula 3000. Webber claimed three race wins and second in the Championship.
"He had a good year - he didn't win the Championship, but it's very difficult when you are doing serious testing in a Formula One car," Stoddart says. "People don't realise how difficult it is to jump between a Formula 3000 and a Formula One car - it's not so easy, and he did a very creditable job, but he just didn't have the luck." He was, however, gaining vital experience for the next step up, and in September 2001 he was talking to Stoddart, who had now taken over perennial back markers Minardi, about a seat for the following year.
As had been the case throughout his career, a lack of financial backing was a hindrance. "Certainly by the time we were talking seriously about getting him a Formula One drive the issue was that we obviously needed drivers to bring a budget," says Stoddart. "Mark was probably a special case, and will probably be the last driver that gets a free run into Formula One, but that was a bit of a special relationship and it took a lot of people to want it to happen."
The deal was done, with a lot of backroom deals between Stoddart and Briatore, and for the first time since the event to Melbourne, there would be an Australian on the grid at the season opening Australian Grand Prix. "Mark repaid all that faith in him ten times over," Stoddart concludes. "He did it in the first race, basically!"
That First Race
In his first ever Formula One race, Mark Webber fought, pushed and struggled his Minardi up from eighteenth on the grid to fifth at the chequered flag in an incident packed race, bringing the team their first points since 1999 and becoming the 51st driver (and first Australian) to collect points on their Formula One debut. Which was a fairy tale result for both team and driver, but it also remains his best result in the series so far.
"He's just not had the car," Stoddart clarifies. "You only had to look at who scored all the points at Jaguar last year - that wasn't a shot at Justin [Wilson], who scored that point at Indy – but Mark is worth a second in that car, and he did things in that car that, if everyone is absolutely bluntly honest, the car was probably not capable of doing. And that's the difference between a good and great driver – a great driver will make things happen, make opportunities through his own talent that probably wouldn't naturally exist.
"People don't have to win races to be seen as a future champion – those of us in the pitlane who look out for certain things, you see it when it comes along, and with Mark it's the total package."
Stoddart may have been the first in Formula One to notice Webber's abilities, but he was far from the last. Niki Lauda, then team principal at Jaguar, had ample opportunity to notice the Australian's antics in the black car – more often than not he was ahead of the green cars under the Austrian's control. And there was one element that attracted Lauda's attention, above all: "His speed. We let him test the car, I think it was in Barcelona, and he was doing very good lap times - this was the major decision.
"He's a perfect guy altogether - he's very good for sponsors, he's a very polite guy, well educated - so the whole package of him is very good. But the only reason we took him [for Jaguar] was his speed."
Jaguar have had two podiums in their existence - in the 2001 Monaco GP, when Eddie Irvine managed to be one of four drivers on the lead lap, and in Monza 2002, rather fortuitously the week before a major review within Ford was to be released on the future of the team. But if Webber was able to take the fight to Jaguar in a Minardi, then surely the expectations must have been high when he joined the green team?
"He lived up to my expectations," Lauda notes, "but the Jaguar team went backwards. So therefore he cannot prove it, but from his point of view he's doing a really good job, and if the car can't deliver what it's supposed to deliver then he's in difficulties. Because in the beginning of (this) season he was very quick, the car was quick, but now the other cars have gone forward and the Jaguar cars have stopped [progressing]. So therefore they are going backwards and it doesn't really help him."
The view from Jaguar
"He's obviously got a lot of natural talent, hasn't he?" Jaguar's team manager Dave Stubbs starts, when asked about what sets Webber apart from the others. "But apart from that he works with every aspect of the team well, from the media people, mechanics, engineers, myself, chief engineer, the people who work at the factory, everybody – he seems to kind of fit in like no other driver I've ever known before, really.
"He's got a very good working relationship with his race engineer, which is essential - I think he's got a lot of respect for his engineer, he pushes him quite a lot, expects a lot from him. Mark's got a lot of good feedback from the car - between him, his engineer and his data analyst, the three of them work very well together, and get the best out of the car and the package that we've got. So he's got a hell of a lot of determination for sure, a lot of natural talent, but I think it's very much the way that he works with people, the way that he motivates people and the whole team.
"He'll be back at the factory most weeks after a race, talking to the design guys and that kind of thing, going through what he thinks we need from the car, and particularly back at the factory he has a lot of talks with the engineers to discuss what they are doing for the next race. Now I know a lot of drivers don't do that - with a lot of Formula One drivers, you don't see them in the engineering office between races. It's just the effort that he puts in on all sides of the operation, really."
Nick Harris, the team physiotherapist, is effectively Webber's human engineer, and for him the difference is simple: "In terms of what I do, the human element, it really is when the drivers are on their own at their homes and if I'm not there, or another person like me in the teams Mark's been with, it's just the desire to wake up in the morning, to open the window and see the shocking English weather, all cloudy and wet, and yet still have the motivation to go out and to complete maybe a three or four hour session on the bicycle.
"That's very special, to have that level of motivation no matter what the weather, to just go out if no one's with you to push you, to complete those sessions. That's what we call the hard yards - it's always easier to go out when the weather's fine, when there's a group of you, whether I'm there or you're with friends or in training camp. But when it's a cold, wet day in England and you're a bit tired, to go out on your own steam and do a three or four hour session, those days add up over a season and make a big difference.
"And when you go from season to season then yeah, that makes him pretty special in my book – you've got your fair weather kind of athletes, and you've got the guys who do the fair weather stuff and the hard yards, and the hard yards make the difference."
Bjorn Wirdheim, the team's reserve driver and a man who has been able to observe the Australian at close quarters, notes it all rather succinctly: "I think one of his strongest abilities is to go out and post a good lap time when the pressure is on, and I think that's what makes him a good qualifier. And also the way he works with the team – it doesn't matter who you ask here at Jaguar, they really like him – and that's important. He also has an image of a super professional – he puts a huge effort into his training. And all of that gives him a very positive image."
How long did it take the team to realise what they had on their hands? Peter Harrison, who has been Webber's race engineer since the Australian joined the team, remembers the initial period thus: "the obvious thing that I remember was we knew he was going to be easy to get on with - we thought he's going to fit in, that side of it was going to be great – but the pace side we had no idea. We just thought, 'well maybe he's going to be quick, maybe he's not, we just don't know'. So I was just open minded – I didn't really have a view on him at that stage.
"We did plenty of testing, and even then it wasn't obvious – at that time, Antonio [Pizzonia] was slightly quicker in the winter, and Mark just built up slowly. He didn't show any obvious pace until we actually got down to Australia. It only really became obvious once we got into the race season. I think it's just the way he reacts to a race weekend – with Antonio he struggled with a race weekend, with the pressure side of it.
"Testing is a completely different ball game and Mark, because he stays so calm and relaxed, the pressure [of a GP weekend] doesn't get to him in the same way. During testing he would be really calm and really relaxed, and I was thinking during testing ‘how's he going to relate to a race weekend?' – you've seen it before, some drivers just change – and we went to the race weekend and he had exactly the same attitude. And I thought: this is great, he doesn't turn up on Sunday all uptight, you can still talk to him – some drivers you can't even talk to them before the race. Mark just stays the same – it's great."
The Racing Difference
Two years ago, at the Italian Grand Prix, I spent a practice session in the Minardi garage, and standing in front of the spare car between the two drivers, it was immediately obvious how different Webber's approach to a Grand Prix weekend was: while the other side of the garage was a blur of frantic movement back and forth, Webber's side was serene, deliberate, with not a moment wasted or a gesture unnecessary. Everything that his side of the garage did just seemed methodical and calm.
"He does do that, yeah," Stubbs responds, "I would agree entirely, and I would say his engineer is also like that. Now whether that comes from Mark or not, I don't know, but certainly as a team they do work like that. I wouldn't say the other side of the garage doesn't, but you certainly notice it on Mark's side of the garage. I think it's the sort of natural way he works – it was like that from the very beginning, and as soon as he built up relationships with people it obviously accumulated and progressed from that."
"I think it's all down to the pressure," Harrison continues, "he's really into his sports and he loves his cycling, and he likes the mental side of it, the mental toughness. I think instead of taking pressure off he actually likes it, he likes the mental hardship – it's like when he did his challenge in Tasmania last winter, he loves pushing himself to the edge, and that's when he's at his best, I think. Certainly in testing when that pressure's not there, he still does a great job but you don't have that last edge, whereas on a race weekend he'll always find those last couple of tenths when it really counts.
"He just has the ability to do it, and I think it's a snowball effect as well – once you do it a couple of times and get your confidence, then he arrives with that confidence – certainly last year Antonio would arrive almost beaten – you could see it – and Mark would arrive knowing that he was going to build up. I think it's a mental attitude, I think if you think 'right, I'm going build up on the Friday, I'm going to do the test', and by qualifying on Saturday you think 'right, I'm going to peak, I'm going to do my best lap when it really matters', and if you have that attitude all weekend it works out."
If he has the right approach, loves the pressure and thrives in the environment, then where are the results? Stoddart mentioned that he hasn't had the car, and Lauda agreed that his team had gone backwards relative to everyone else, but what is the view of the man closest to him in the paddock? "I think that he is a very good racer," Harrison replies, "but he's been let down by the car or by circumstances outside of his control really, most of the time.
"We've had some incredible bad luck, like you wouldn't believe - we've run in quite strong positions, point-scoring positions, and normally at the time when we've got the most to gain, the car has broken. And when we've slogged around just slightly off the pace and finished ninth or tenth, he's driven a fantastic race but we just haven't had the pace. When we have had the pace, like Malaysia where we had a terrible start, or Monaco where we had the electrical problem, they would have been both possible podiums, and it's just really bad luck.
"I don't think it's anything Mark's done – he's very consistent in a race, and in his lap times – I think that [results] will come. If you actually analyse his race runs they've been rock solid, and he makes very few mistakes – there was Brazil [last year] in the wet [where Webber spun and crashed], which I guess was a mistake, but an easy one to make and nothing to be ashamed of. But other than that, it's hard to think of many mistakes that he's made in races. But I can think of dozens of times where the car has let him down just at the wrong time, and you really feel for him. You could probably re-run the last two seasons and we would score a lot more points now."
With the move to Williams, Webber will find himself even more in the public eye, and the pressure to perform will be severe against men who have big reputations in racing. Niki Lauda, for one, is looking forward to seeing him in action there. "Webber is from the young generation guys," Lauda states, "so I have to compare him with [Kimi] Raikkonen, [Fernando] Alonso, these types of guys - he's certainly one of them. So what I expect him to do is to really fulfill the promise. This he has not delivered yet – and this is something very interesting for me to watch, now that he is in the number one group of cars, where will he end up.
"He's a completely straight forward guy, very easy to handle, no primadonna guy, down to earth, professional, highly professional attitude - nothing wrong with him. It only proves that I was right with my decision, that Frank [Williams] thinks the same way and brings him up to a better team - that really is a fact, so it is a very good move for him. I would say his Jaguar start, after Minardi, was the right step forward to join a number one team, or one of the top teams."
And he will now find himself at a team that has much more resources than he has been used to, which is probably an ideal situation for the man who has been slowly building up to this shot at the big time. "When he came [to Jaguar], you could see that he had a good relationship at Minardi," Dave Stubbs remembers, "and he knew their restrictions or limitations, and I think he knows our limitations just the same. But he realised what they are and, I wouldn't say he works around them, but he encourages the team to do the job despite those limitations.
"He's done an awful lot for the Jaguar team – a hell of a lot. He makes the team work together as a whole – he's in there in qualifying, he's a good qualifier, a good racer – he's an ideal number one driver for the team as we are at the moment, I think."
"I think I have to say one thing at the end, though," Stoddart interjects, knocking on the table for emphasis. "Quite aside from his unbelievable talent, quite aside from the fact that I believe everyone now recognises that he's a future race winner and maybe even Championship winner - but the one thing that sets Mark out from the rest is that his feet are firmly on the ground, and he's one hell of a nice guy.
"He's a bit like Michael Schumacher - people criticise Michael, but Michael is actually a bloody nice guy, and I just see so many similarities between them. Let's hope I'm right."
Sidebar: In his Words
Mark Webber himself struggles for words when asked to explain the successful image he holds in Formula One nowadays. "I don't think...", he begins, hesitating,"it's hard to talk about why things have gone the way they have in Formula One so far... I've worked hard, I suppose. I've still got so much more to achieve. I've got good people around me, and that's been really helpful to me - just hard work, and keeping it simple."
DC: How do you approach this whole job? Do you see your approach as having changed over the last few years?
Webber: "No, not really - it's very similar to when I was at Minardi, even though I've got to be more in touch than when I was at Minardi, because Minardi had less resources - you can't be so demanding on a small team like that because they don't have the resources, but they have a phenomenal amount of passion and it was a great thing for me to learn there. But no, not a huge amount has changed at all, it's been very, very consistent all the way through, and that's what they say, if it's not broken, don't change it. "
DC: Have you ever had a game plan to plot out the moves - coming over to England, moving through the series, and so on?
Webber: "We had a plan - in 1995 we wrote a plan that we wanted to be in Formula One in 2001, to take sort of six or seven years to get into Formula One, and we were one year out. But it's very easy to have a plan on a piece of paper - we can all draw a plan! I suppose it started to kick in around Formula 3, thinking 'okay, this is quite a serious category, there are some serious drivers here, and if you start to go well in that then maybe you can be alright' - Formula Ford is maybe a little early.
"But you've still got a number of obstacles after that, a lot of hurdles that you're faced with, and yeah, you've got to stick to a plan - there were a few derailings happen! But everything happens for a reason, and you've got to grab the opportunities that come along with both hands in any sport. I've been very fortunate, but also I've had to perform on certain occasions very quickly to keep myself in the hunt."
DC: You've worked hard, and you've surrounded yourself with good people, but how has that worked out? You can't just luck into having good people with you all along.
Webber: "Well, I think there are a lot of really good people out there, but you've also got to get the best out of them yourself as well. I think respect breeds success and that breeds respect as well, so if you've got respect for each other, that does help the whole train to go forward. If there's a bit of a breakdown, or if I'm going to bark off up a tree and say I really, really want something and then if I can't actually deliver after they've got it for me... I've got to actually deliver on demand, basically, so delivering for the team is crucial."
DC: Everyone says that you work hard but also that you push them to work possibly harder than they knew they could - how do you see that from your side?
Webber: "Some people might just do enough, but just enough is not enough - you need to do more. There are a lot of people who are just happy to do enough - it doesn't matter what walk of life you're in - like I say if you give some people wings they can actually get some confidence, and I've seen some people at this team change since I've arrived, just in terms of their own confidence, and I've probably changed as well because we've both grown together, but there were some guys here who were very... they probably wouldn't express themselves enough, but now they do because they trust themselves, they back their own judgments."
DC: How much do you think you've changed in the last two years?
Webber: "Not a great deal - just probably a bit more confidence, in my own driving, but I'm still absolutely open to learn. I mean, on Friday at Silverstone I didn't drive that well, but on Saturday I came out and was really happy with how I drove, and I worked really hard over night.
"Here again [at Hockenheim practice] maybe I could have gone a bit better, but it's all about putting it in the library, putting it in the computer for next time. Every dog has his day, and you've got to learn that - in this sport there are more downs than there are ups, unless you're Michael [Schumacher], but for most people it's a tough industry, and there are a lot of variables that are outside of the driver's control, and you just got to try and control as much as you can.
"Talent is great to have, but there are so many things kicking off around the driver now over the course of a weekend that he has to do, or over the course of his career - testing, all the travel - it's about focusing your energy on the right things, and not wasting it on things that don't make a difference."
It must be nice to work for Premier Performance Division's CEO, Tony Purnell. Despite the clear progress Jaguar Racing have made in the eighteen months that he has held the reins of the team, much of which can be laid at his feet, Purnell constantly demurs whenever he feels he is getting too much praise for the job of turning around the formerly chaotic team. "I do think we've done a good job over the last eighteen months," he admits from the other side of the table in the Jaguar motorhome, his fingers constantly fidgeting with a pen, "but don't forget it's not me that's doing this; it's the guys that are running the show, so the credit is theirs. I've just enabled it." In Formula One terms, Tony Purnell is the antithesis of Mike Gascoyne.
Formula One works in a kind of binary - you either win or you lose; and the focus on pure racing results means that the immense workload of the losing teams tends to be ignored, no matter how much of an improvement has been made. On pure racing results Jaguar don't seem to have done much to merit acknowledgement, but this is to ignore the astonishing level of excellence in the series overall at present. And there is no doubting the vast improvement in the team from the disarray of just a few short years ago, when the team seemed to have a revolving door of management.
Purnell's greatest achievement at Jaguar has been, arguably, to solidify the structure of the team, to focus minds on the job at hand and move forward from a firm base which previously was one of the flimsiest in the paddock. "I suppose that we're really quite proud of what we've managed to achieve," he says. "We've got a super little team really."
The team's progress coincided with the rise of their star driver, Mark Webber. But even Purnell knows that Webber's progress towards the front of the F1 grid is bound to be faster than Jaguar's. Reportedly, the Australian has a performance clause in his contract that frees him of obligation to the Ford-owned team next season should they not reach a certain performance level – speculated to be sixth place in the Constructors' Championship by the British Grand Prix this season. In that case, he will most likely end up moving to Williams or even Renault in 2005.
"We have a contract with Mark, and if we fulfill the terms of the contract he’ll have to fulfill his side," Purnell confirms. "We think Mark’s a super guy, and he’s completely in line with how we want to run the team, so yes I’d like to keep Webber." And if they lose him? "Then we’ll have the best drivers we can put in the seats," Purnell smiles.
"We've got a lot to do yet, but we're trying to create an organisation where everybody's valuable, and everybody has a role to play, because if you do that you can move mountains. One person can only achieve what one person can achieve, so for me this is a difficult exercise, and what we need to do is create an organisation that, as much as you can, tries to be efficient, because if you're efficient you tend to get more done, actually. I don't think it's different from the aims of any good company in the world."
Changing the Game
Purnell's path to Formula One was anything but obvious. After school he took a job as an apprentice fitter at industrial giant GKN ("I went to work at the steelworks, absolutely hated it and thought, 'right, I'm going to university!'") before commencing his studies, collecting a Kennedy Scholarship which took him to the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), gaining degrees in mechanical design, aerodynamics and material science with a thesis on aerodynamics in Formula One. All of which clearly confers him with geek status.
"Yeah, I'm a one hundred percent geek!" Purnell laughs, before going on to confirm it with the rest of his educational details. "I went to Cambridge on a scholarship; I liked Cambridge, and I was doing research into aerodynamic measurements. I stumbled into a consultancy job with Newman Haas, and the chap I worked for at Newman Haas said 'what you're doing is pretty good but you're not appreciated here, why don't you start your own company? I'll leave and start you up.' He was a really good guy who didn't understand anything about how we did things, but he knew that it was good for motor racing." That chap was called Ray Wardell, the year was 1987, and the company formed was Pi Research.
Pi designs and manufactures electronics and software which measure almost everything that can be measured on a car - to such an extent that the term "Pi logger" has become shorthand for the black box data loggers that are found in almost every class of motorsport. Pi Research went on to revolutionise electronics.
"Certainly in motor racing we can be accused of... changing the game," Purnell concedes, hesitatingly. "And I started to remember what I'd been taught at MIT about business, changed it from a little club to a proper, serious business where finance and sales were important, and grew the thing over ten years. I suppose the thing was a success. I did very well out of it personally, and then one day Mr. Ford came along and bought the company. We also did an awful lot outside of motor racing; one in four trucks in North America runs our software…"
Pi continues to be a large profit centre for Ford, as a part of the Premier Performance Division (PPD), which also includes Cosworth Racing and Jaguar Racing. In the winter of 2002 Purnell was appointed Chief Executive Officer of PPD, and among his tasks was the onerous responsibility of improving the underperforming green cars in Formula One.
"When I sold to Ford they said, 'stay on for two years'. I was looking to do something a bit different but I found, much to my surprise, that I liked working for Ford. I found the guy I worked for absolutely inspirational (Richard Parry-Jones), and then he said would I like to lead this? and I said yes.
"My skills are really in strategy and setting things up, getting them going; I'm not a particularly good man manager. People say I'm quite good at seeing how it should be, and then getting the elements in place to get there, which I suppose is what a good CEO does. The people we've got, especially at Jaguar Racing, are excellent, and they're a lot better than I am at any element, which I suppose is how it should be."
It's easy to say in retrospect, but Purnell was the ideal man for the job after the disastrous Bobby Rahal / Niki Lauda experiments in team management. Purnell has more technical skills than any current team boss (witness the MIT degrees and thesis), as well as a keen interest in karting ("I was keen but hopeless!"), and the combination of technical and business ability along with a life long interest in racing has allowed him to enable the team to move forward from their earlier, darker days.
The racing side of Purnell's past has never really been elaborated on; most people focus on the business side and think that's all there is to him. "Oh yes; I love motor racing. I've spent an awful lot of my life racing in one way or another, as an enthusiast racing karts, I did a bit of rallying, and you see racing through very different eyes than somebody who's just been involved in Formula One.
"Sometimes I say to people that Formula One has nothing to do with motor racing, and I don't mean that literally but it's just so massively different. But I do feel that so many people involved here would be much stronger if they spent a year in go kart racing, because having to do everything yourself - looking at the weather, the driver psychology, being really organised, remembering it's not really doing what you do well, it's avoiding doing anything badly that counts. All these things really are good experience, and it gives you a feeling for motor racing.
"And then with Formula One you need that technical sophistication, which I got through university, and a business nous, which I got through Pi." The difference from his predecessors is massive, and his approach to racing is working.
So how did he go about fixing the team? Where do you start with a job as large as the one he had been given? "I don't think you need me to tell you about this; you could ask, and I encourage you to ask, the people in the team. I think the difference in style and culture is absolute. We've gone away from a 'just do it' culture to a 'think about it' culture, and we've encouraged people to do things in a restrained and disciplined way. Now that may sound all a bit boring and passionless, but it's also offensive because if you saw how hard people work and how absolutely married they are to what they do, you could never say that this is all without passion.
"All we're trying to do is funnel and organise that passion so that there's little waste, and I think we've achieved that pretty well. We've got a long way to go, make no mistake, but you don't go from organisationally challenged to the slickest, meanest, most organised operation in a year; it doesn't happen. It takes a few years, and then it's just ongoing.
"So we want the ethic to be one of continuous improvement, because it's natural for things to decay, and the leadership - which is not one guy but all the leaders - have to constantly challenge what they're doing and rejuvenate it to keep things efficient. So I don't think it's possible to get to where my perfect company would be, but we can get at least 90% there.
"The easiest (example) is the aerodynamics department, because that was the very first thing that I was involved with. I was an aerodynamicist 20 years ago, and I'd be laughed out of the aero office if I really tried to design anything, but all we did was say: 'look chaps, you're thrashing; you're doing lots and lots of work, but there's not a plan here.' So we set out, and we told the whole department here's how we see a really good aero department, and it had a clearly designed structure, it had technical experts, it had organisational experts, it had a absolute rigour in what they did.
"So we said: we don't think you should try to do so much, you could perhaps do a little less, but try to make it good, so whenever anything comes out of your department the team trusts it, and the manufacturing people know that it's not a wasted part and then you'll build a reputation. And never believe your own results; challenge them the whole time. And we defined a mechanism for doing that.
"We said: we'll give you the tools for the job, we'll give you computational fluid dynamics resource, we'll give you a windtunnel, so you can measure it for the job of being the best in Formula One. And if I look two years later at where we are against that vision I smile, and Ben (Agathangelou) who's in charge of the aerodynamics division smiles. You can criticise us because perhaps ever minutiae of that vision hasn't been achieved, but broad brush I'd give the company 9.5 out of 10 - invite Goldman Sachs in, they'll give us 9.5 out of 10!"
Advertising with Engineers
Purnell may not be in his ideal job ("I think if you read my masters thesis it's crystal clear that I probably wanted to be Adrian Newey, and something went wrong along the way!"), but for his job he is ideal. Despite the difference in cultures between the two companies he has run - he built Pi from the ground up, whereas he was handed Jaguar as a going concern, albeit slowly – there are quite a few similarities to his approach to the job.
"One of the things I did at Pi was we entered a competition for Business of the Year," he recalls, "and I hired a management consultant at the time, and coincidently he said I had to have a five year plan. I said what a waste of time!
"But we were paying him a lot of money so I thought we'd better do as he says, and we wrote a five year plan which I thought was absolutely barking (mad) at the time, and he said 'just say how you imagine it.' And the next five years went to that plan as though it had been planned, and I just shook my head at it all. I realised that from the moment that I had any involvement here that there wasn't a plan at all, and unless you know where you're going you never get there.
"None of this is me; get any business book, or do any course in Business 101 and they say the same thing; you've got to have a plan. So I didn't do anything particularly special. When I started with the company, we had a plan written out, and some of us re-read that because it's good for your ego! [Managing director] Dave Pitchforth and [director of engineering] Ian Pocock and... Well, I shouldn't single them out, but everybody has reacted to the goals that we set, and its remarkable reading. I wish I could slap it on the internet!"
The other difference in the team, at least from the outside, is that previously Jaguar seemed to be run wholly as a marketing exercise, whereas it now seems to be more focused on achieving technical excellence. "I wouldn't wholeheartedly agree with that," he avers, "the job today is a marketing exercise, but to achieve any real marketing credibility you have to have people kind of admiring you.
"You can achieve lots of short term gains by little soundbites and good publicity exercises, but at the end of the day they don't have much momentum, whereas people saying 'they're getting their act together down there' - that has staying power. And of course some results help; that's what provides real marketing fuel.
"I work for a branch of the advertising industry; it's just that it's a bit odd in that you achieve your poster with engineers, rather than with artists."
The Guys in Detroit
Comparisons are a tricky thing to make in Formula One, but the closest team in terms of history to Jaguar would be BAR, who bought the old Tyrrell team and started racing the year before Ford bought Stewart and renamed it. After years in the wilderness the team from Brackley has come good this year, claiming three podiums and rising. Does Purnell see any comparison between the two? "BAR are spending an awful lot of money and that, along with Honda doing whatever it takes, well, we're not in that position at the moment, so don't expect us to outperform those guys this year.
"But I do see some parallels, in that there's a bit of confidence that Ferrari are beatable, and it's kind of encouraging to see them delivering on that. I tell you, I really admire what they've done; good job."
And like everything in Formula One, it ultimately comes down to the money. Jaguar are, relative to the other teams further up the grid, running on a very tight budget, and Ford have been criticised in the media for not pumping more resources into the team to allow them to compete more effectively in comparison to the other major auto manufacturers. But how does Purnell, who ultimately controls the budgets the team runs on, view this seeming disparity? "I'm impressed by the guys in Detroit; they're sharp. It was always about earning respect, because they were, I think rightly, quite disappointed; they'd been promised a lot, but never delivered.
"And they weren't Formula One petrol heads; these are guys running a billion dollar business; and it is very important to me to have Detroit looking over at me and saying 'actually, for the resource they've got they're doing a pretty good job'. And I always said to them, and publicly, that I would only go back (to Ford, for more money) if I felt we had earned the right to the next step. It's very romantic and emotive to say 'give us 500 million dollars and we'll deliver for you', but it's not really very sensible, is it? Anyway, Ford are way too sensible to go with that!
"But it's entirely credible to say: okay, you've given us a very limited (budget) but more than enough, and we've had more than enough money to make a very nice racing car. Now, if you want us to compete for podiums regularly then yeah, it's another step, but let's not just go step change; I'll just say that to make the next step we need this amount, and here's the plan. And hopefully they'll say yeah, okay."
Purnell's budgetary plans are like those of his racing ambitions; one step at a time. He and his deputies have taken the team from structural chaos to streamlined efficiency in eighteen months; Ferrari and BAR have shown that this is the most effective strategy for Formula One today. It can only be a matter of time before the controllers of the purse strings in Detroit open up to help push the green team up to the heights that were promised at that debut four and a half years ago.
Christian Klien was a busy man in Melbourne. Being new to the circus will always bring a lot of attention - everybody wants to get to know the new guy in town, to be able to package up his strengths and weakness and proclaim loudly 'this is who he is', and with Mark Webber under constant bombardment by his home media in his first year as the official lead driver there was always going to be a lot falling onto the Austrian's shoulders. Klien (pronounced Clean) seemed to be constantly bemused by the attention. Certainly he looked like he'd rather be doing something else most of the weekend, something more useful towards his pending Formula One race debut, but he allowed himself to be led through interview after interview seemingly without protest. And they stacked up - media briefings were planned and then pushed back, from Thursday to Friday to Saturday and on.
Throughout it all he remained stoic, remained slightly aloof from the distractions, as though he was thinking through the hundreds of decisions to come that needed to be made to move his car, and the team, forward. On Friday, just before his second ever race weekend session, he sat in the Jaguar paddock impassively, the eye in the German media hurricane, for half an hour or more without complaint.
By the time the English speaking media had their turn with Klien there were only a few minutes available for questions. It was a distraction he could have done without presumably, but he bore it with as much good grace as he could manage, something he has clearly already learned from his teammate. Klien certainly seems a good fit as a teammate for Webber - they seem to have a similar demeanour in and out of the car, despite the difference in experience.
So how is he handling all the attention? "You sit in your car and I mean, when you come out of the pits you can see all the spectators and the TV and everything, but when you are in your car and on your qualifying lap you forget about all that and you just go, go; you just push." Remarkably he doesn't even consider his friends and family back home watching from afar: "No," Klien laughs, "you don't have time!"
Formula Three Euro series doesn't teach you about this. Last year Klien was winning races around Germany (he ultimately came second to current Toyota tester Ryan Briscoe), driving around in front of crowds that could comfortably fit into the front grandstand in Melbourne. Won four races and Zandvoort. Won German Formula Renault 2002 - five wins.
DC: You've finally had your first session on a Formula One race weekend - how do you feel?
Christian Klien: I feel quite good; this is a fantastic feeling to go out now and drive around the circuit where there are a lot of spectators and TV and everything. It was a great feeling to go out in the pitlane, and there were all the spectators and people; it was a great feeling. A good situation, but you can't expect that reaction - it's crazy! Then a part of the track here was very dirty, very, very bumpy, and you don't expect that. And it's very, very difficult to learn on a bumpy, dirty track. So today was just like a test day to learn the track, to just drive around.
DC: Do you feel ready for it? I don't know how much testing you've done.
CK: Oh yeah - I've done about 6,000 km of testing, and that's quite a lot, so I'm good and prepared for a four day race weekend.
DC: You've also sat in the simulator at the factory - how much did that help?
CK: It helps a lot; you've got all the buttons on the steering wheel in the simulator, and the engineers and everything, and they can tell you on the radio what you have to do, to change channels on the engine and things like this so you can practice. And also to learn the circuits.
DC: I guess the new engine rules help a guy like you because no one expects you to set a time today, so that gives you a chance to work up to speed.
CK: It's been a bit more difficult, the new engine rules, because you have to save the engine miles so you can't do that much laps that you want, so it's actually been a bit more difficult.
DC: How much is that going to affect you, because you don't have that much testing on the tracks and it's unclear how much testing you'll have away from the races.
CK: I do have quite a bit of practice before the qualifying, and normally we can do quite a lot of laps; in fact with the new engine rule we have to practice the engine the whole weekend, although you have to save the engine a bit so you can't do so much the laps that you want; you have to save it. You have to get on the track quicker, and you have to find the set up quicker, so it's all more difficult for a new driver.
DC: Are you working with Mark to achieve set-ups and that kind of thing?
CK: Yeah - we work together, and normally both teammates have to work together because we're a team; it's the same in testing, and it's the same in racing.
DC: How did he welcome you into the team?
CK: Very good; he is a very friendly guy, and good, so he is easy to work with.
DC: There is a lot on you shoulders right now - you have a very quick and well respected teammate, plus you have the demands of learning the car, the tracks, everything that happens in Formula One...
CK: Yeah, but to have such a good driver as Mark is helpful because you can learn a lot from him, and if I have any question I can ask him because he's very friendly and he will help with my question. I think you can learn a lot from him, because he's a very good driver.
DC: Has Jaguar told you that they have any expectations of you?
CK: For the first races it's just to finish the race; that's my expectation and also for the team, and I think that's the most important thing for this weekend.
DC: And over the season?
CK: Yeah, sure maybe to get some points - that's the expectation.
Formula One is a hard mistress. A racing driver can spend his whole career, from his humble beginnings as a junior karter up, working towards the pinnacle of motorsport, competing in the various categories of racing with one eye on the prize, scraping and struggling towards being one of those twenty drivers that hundreds of millions of people watch as they line up on the grid in yet another country every two weeks. But what if you finally get there and she turns her back on you, spurns your advance?
Antonio Pizzonia did everything you're supposed to do to get to Formula One; he worked his way up the ladder and played the game according to the rules. He came from Manaus, a Brazilian town well away from the established scenes in Sao Paolo and Rio, starting in karts at home before moving south to take wins and national championships against more favoured, more moneyed competitors. He wanted more and took the risk of moving across the world to England to compete in Formula Vauxhall, taking second in his first year and the title the next. The British Formula Renault and Formula Three titles followed in successive years as though he was born for it.
Frank Williams heard about him, and liked what he heard. He helped Pizzonia into Formula 3000 with the Petrobras Junior team, affiliated with his own, and signed the young driver to a long term contract with BMW-Williams, running him as a tester around his racing career. His F3000 team wasn't a top line team but he impressed nonetheless, taking a win and a couple of other podiums and fastest laps along the way.
And then Jaguar came courting.
It was a risky move, but racing is inherently about risk. Pizzonia had a long term contract with a top three team in his pocket, was highly regarded by that team and others in the pitlane, and had a certain financial future ahead of him. But he wasn't racing, and racing was why he was there in the first place.
Racing for Jaguar has always been a questionable drive – all the way back to the team's beginnings as Stewart Racing questions have been asked about whether they were able to run two cars equally, and looking at the statistics for the team there is no question that one driver has been able to massively outperform his teammate every year since their inception. When you consider that the team has never been blessed with a large budget in comparison to the others, it is easy to draw the inference that they are often unable to run two equal cars in terms of new parts.
But a race seat is a race seat, and Pizzonia asked Williams to defer his contract to allow him to race for the green team, and Williams were amenable to this. "It's a long term contract, and obviously the plan was to be with Jaguar for two years," Pizzonia explained while sitting in the Williams cafe in the Indianapolis paddock, "that was my plan and that was Williams' plan as well. The plan was to do two years with Jaguar and then to come back here (as a race driver).
"So basically things went wrong and now our plans are different, they've changed at the moment. I didn't actually expect to be in this situation today, and Williams didn't expect me to be in this situation as well. We are trying to find the best option for my career at the moment, what's best for me and what's best for them as well."
To say that things went wrong is an understatement – in his eleven races for Jaguar Pizzonia had one top eight grid position, finished no higher than ninth, failed to even finish in four of those races, and was comprehensively outperformed by his teammate Mark Webber.
DC: Do you actually know, or did they ever say, what was the problem at Jaguar?
Pizzonia: "I know exactly what happened there, but I don't want to talk about the problems because there's a lot of good people in there who don’t deserve to hear anything bad, you know – there's a lot of good mechanics, a few very good engineers – the problem is not them; it's different problems. Like I said I don't want to talk about those problems because it's part of the past now, and we are trying to reach an agreement.
"But I know exactly what happened and I'm sure one day we'll be able to say. Time will show that what they did was wrong, and what they are doing to Justin (Wilson) is exactly the same thing. I don't want to really compare him to myself – I think he is doing worse than what I was doing there, but it's not his fault – it's definitely not his fault."
Pizzonia's not going to say it, but his comments don't exactly put cold water on the one car team theory. Premier Performance Division CEO Tony Purnell's recent comments about the possibility of the team taking a driver who brings a budget with him probably confirms it, as does Pizzonia's replacement Justin Wilson's record of three car retirements and a lucky point in a messy US race.
But where does that leave Pizzonia now? With only ten teams and most of the drivers staying where they are for another year there aren't many options for him, even if a team wanted to look past his record and take a chance on the form he showed in the junior categories. "Well there's not much happening at the moment unfortunately," Pizzonia confirmed, "first of all because we still haven't reached an agreement with Jaguar, and we're still working on that.
"Also we don't know what's happening with the testing regulations for next year – I know there are a lot of teams who want to cut testing, and if that happens it's going to be quite difficult for me to get a test driving seat. The plan is definitely to be in Formula One as a test driver, or a race driver if there is a seat available I'll take it. We'll see – it's probably a bit early I think."
DC: There's not a lot around at the moment.
Pizzonia: "Well yeah, it is very difficult at the moment to find a race seat, but we're not finished yet – it's not impossible, and we're still talking to a few teams, but obviously the teams that are available need a sponsor. We'll see – it's still quite early, but we'll see."
DC: You're spending a lot of time here with Williams – can we read anything into that?
Pizzonia: "Well obviously I still have a contract with Williams, and I came here just to watch them working you know – I think I've been away too long already and I can't wait to be back. There is a possibility to become a test driver for them, so that's why I'm here."
DC: You haven't been racing for a few races now – what's it like to have to watch it from the sidelines?
Pizzonia: "Well it's a bit different of course, but I'm trying to enjoy my life outside of the race track and I'm doing all those things I couldn't do before – I'm playing a lot of sports, everyday playing football, waterskiing every day, and spending a lot of time with the family. Of course I miss being in the car, driving and racing, but there's nothing I can do at the moment so the only thing I can do is try and enjoy my life outside of the car."
One thing that has been occupying his time is the struggle to settle with his former team. Jaguar have still not settled his contract despite sacking him in late July immediately after the British Grand Prix, and this has meant that Pizzonia's management has been looking at filing a lawsuit against the team (as well as sponsor HSBC for misuse of the driver's property rights). " I just want to reach an agreement, I just want what I lost, and that's it," Pizzonia reluctantly confirmed. "I don’t want more, I just want what I lost, because I had sponsors, I had contracts with sponsors. But if we don't reach an agreement then we're going to have to go to court."
DC: But nothing has been filed yet?
Pizzonia: "Not at the moment – at the moment everything is quite, quite slow from their side, but I'm not going to wait too long."
DC: I suppose with the season going on it's something they're trying to sidetrack, but it's not really something you can let run on for too long.
Pizzonia: "Well exactly – I also have to live, I have my family that I look after, I have my career that I have to look after, and I can't wait for them – if we don't reach an agreement we're going to go to court."
DC: It's a shame, because you're a really young guy with a potentially big career ahead of you, but it's hard to know what's going to happen.
Pizzonia: "Yes, it's all up in the air at the moment and I know what I can do and I just want the opportunity to show it, which I didn't have (at Jaguar). They (Williams) know what I can do, and they believe in what I can do, but unfortunately Jaguar didn't see it."
Williams have been strong in their support of the young driver throughout the Jaguar debacle, with the team's senior management and drivers all confirming their belief in the Brazilian and his ability throughout. "Yeah, Frank and Patrick have always believed in my potential, in my career, and I think they still do. Like I said it wasn't my plan and it wasn't their plan for me to be back so early, so we're just trying to see what's best for both sides."
In the lead up to the season finale in Japan, Williams brought the driver back into the fold as a test driver, and he rewarded their faith with a successful test session in Jerez where he topped the times months after last sitting in a Formula One car. But until the testing regulations for next year are announced Pizzonia's career is in limbo – unwilling to risk a testing drive with Williams again he cannot pursue alternative drives in other series, but by not doing so the seats are filling, which could leave him without any drive in 2004.
DC: Obviously you're still young – you're actually younger than most of the guys in Formula 3000 – have you thought about going back there?
Pizzonia: "The only problem is to race in F3000 you've got to pay, and I don't want to pay to race anymore – I can't take money away from my family anymore, and I've got to do whatever's financially possible."
DC: What about over here, in America – have you thought about racing here?
Pizzonia: "Yes, and I'm going to watch the ChampCar race on Sunday in Miami, but the target is still to be in Formula One."
Which leaves the likeable Brazilian in the hands of others to kick start his career. There is no question that Williams will help him where they can, but Pizzonia and his management need to put the Jaguar mess behind him by settling on best terms and then concentrate on getting him back into a car as soon as possible. At the age of 23 he has time on his side, but he needs to reconfirm to the motorsport world that the talent he showed in the past didn't evaporate when he pulled on those green overalls.
As the man himself said, time will tell.
The thing is, it was all for nothing - so much noise, so much fury, and the end result of it all is that everything remains the same. Or perhaps worse; we've still to see what the long-term fallout of Jaguar's folly will be. Jaguar not only undermined the driver who mere months ago they were describing as a young charger in front of the world, but they managed to turn the positive reception build up over the previous four races into a PR disaster, the equivalent of a game losing own goal scored deep in extra time. And nothing has changed at the team; the driver still hasn't performed, the team still suffers from appalling reliability, and fans worldwide still have no faith in the team's management to deliver results. The sun rose early on Thursday, warming the dry, dusty Montmelo area on another beautiful spring day, the first day of the Grand Prix weekend. The team members began to arrive early in the morning, followed in the afternoon by the journalists who were there to report on the action, and the only story that they had was the imminent sacking of Jaguar's Antonio Pizzonia, the 22-year old Brazilian who made his Formula One debut only four races earlier. Formula One is a tough business, but this move was brutal even by its own standards.
It started in Imola; questions were being asked as to why Pizzonia was consistently over a second slower than his teammate. Juan Pablo Montoya was the first to say it publicly, followed shortly by other members of the Williams team. No one outside of Brazil expected Pizzonia to dominate his teammate Mark Webber at the start of the season, although he was seen as fast enough to be in the game on merit. Webber, the laconic 25-year old Australian, was fresh from an eventful debut year at Minardi, where he had more often than not put the underfunded car ahead of his more highly fancied competition, including the cars of his new team. Pizzonia, on the other hand, spent most of last year testing for the Williams outfit, putting in thousands of miles on circuits around Europe.
Nonetheless Pizzonia was supposed to keep Webber honest, and four races in he was struggling with the task. Pizzonia's highest grid position was 15th, whereas Webber had finished three qualifying sessions in the top five. The only qualifying session where Pizzonia finished ahead of his teammate was Saturday in Malaysia, when he was 0.1 seconds to the good and on softer tyres. Qualifying may be an inexact science with the new regulations, given the variances involved in tyres, fuel loads and track temperatures, but there is no question that Pizzonia was struggling in comparison to Webber. Pizzonia brought the car home in Imola, the first time a Jaguar saw the chequered flag this year albeit two laps down on the leaders, following driver errors in Malaysia and Brazil and a mechanical breakdown in Melbourne. In every race he was well down on Webber when they retired.
So maybe it wasn't such a surprise when The Guardian reported that Pizzonia's position was under review, the quote coming not from 'unnamed team members' as could be expected, but rather from Jaguar's PR boss Nav Sidhu. Not a surprise, that is, unless you happened to be Antonio Pizzonia, who Jaguar had failed to mention this review to. Barcelona should have been the easiest race of his short F1 career - he had put in over 15,000 km there last year in testing with Williams, and knew the place like the back of his hand - and yet the confidence he felt going into the race was destroyed by a dozen or so words in a newspaper.
Maybe Jayme Brito saw it all coming, or maybe he was just quick on his feet. Pizzonia's manager, a former Globo journalist, knows the value of public relations and that this weekend, more than anytime in his short career, his young driver needed help in the field. Jaguar have some good PR people working for them, but when the dispute between the team and driver became public he needed someone else in his corner. Cue Ann Bradshaw, the charming Englishwoman who had worked with Pizzonia in his time at Williams, as well as with countless other drivers in her decades of motorsport PR experience. Bradshaw is known and loved by a large percentage of the Formula One press, and she relished the chance to get back into the paddock, roll her sleeves up and get to work.
And Pizzonia had to do this too. The weekend got off to a bad start for him when he hit a mechanic, Andy Saunders, when he overshot his box coming into the pits on Friday morning. Saunders was taken off to the medical centre after flying six foot through the air, and was later sent home to England to recuperate. Pizzonia was also fined twice for speeding in the pitlane, an otherwise minor indiscretion which was picked up by the press for the irony value.
The pressure didn't seem to be getting to him though - throughout the weekend Pizzonia was remarkably calm and upbeat about everything, and kept focused on the job at hand. When asked if it was a difficult weekend for him he replied "Well not that difficult to be honest - we've had worse - and we managed to run the car this morning. I had a gearbox problem this morning, and I had to jump to the T-car for the second session. I had a problem with the power steering which didn't affect my run at all because we kept running to the end." Bradshaw's fingerprints are all over this statement. Keep calm she told him, keep smiling. And talk about the job you're here to do.
The biggest difference from a media perspective was the amount of access we had to Pizzonia. After qualifying and the race Jaguar usually assign a table to each of the drivers and the media, and at Imola Webber was surrounded by the international press while Pizzonia sat with a single Brazilian journalist. In Barcelona everyone wanted to talk to Pizzonia, and Bradshaw was there to greet them all, dressed in casual clothes rather than a team uniform, a warm smile on her face and an anecdote not far away. She charmed everyone in the paddock, new faces and those she'd known for decades alike, and the story was turning softly in her charge's favour.
There were a number of delays for the waiting press over the weekend as he was pulled in to talk to various people. For example, after Friday qualifying Pizzonia was called into one of their private rooms to talk to Sir Jackie Stewart before coming out to talk to us; Stewart, an experienced public speaker, told him to stay calm and focused, to concentrate on his driving this weekend and to talk about that, and to be honest above all.
Q: There have been lots of rumours about your future at Jaguar - what do you know? What have you been told?
AP: Nothing (smiles) - the only thing I know is I have a contract with them, and I think I'm staying here until the end of the year.
Q: And they've said nothing to you?
AP: Nothing to me.
Q: You must be pleased though - 13th overall.
AP: Well actually I'm a bit disappointed because this morning I managed to do a quicker lap time, and also I had more fuel in the car than at qualifying, which is a little bit frustrating because I knew I had a bit more in the back end, but unfortunately it didn't happen.
For someone so young he was looking unfazed by the pressure being brought to bear. "Well, there is a little bit of pressure - everyone knows that - but when I get in the car I just have to forget about what's going on outside and do my job," Pizzonia commented. "When I'm in the car I don't think about what's going on outside it, and I think it's important for me to get my head where I need to be, you know - I need to do my job in the car, and not concentrate on what's happening here."
Bradshaw is famous for hugging her 'boys', giving them a motherly figure to support them when they are out of the car, and it was clearly working. The biggest question was why Jaguar, with all their personnel and resources, didn't have someone to put a hand on his shoulder and give support to Pizzonia, one of two men in the team who has to actually go out on the track and bring back the results that the team is looking for. Jaguar pushes an image of advanced technology and cutting edge technical advances, and maybe the powers that be haven't looked up from their banks of computer screens for long enough to realise that they are relying on a human being to bring it all home, a young man whose family lives on the other side of the world and whose girlfriend is away for long periods of time. A man alone in a new, and often hostile, environment.
You could see it in his eyes; even though he was always seen with a smile on his face, even though he handled the intense media pressure well, he didn't have the intensity of the other drivers this weekend. When you are talking to a Formula One driver they will focus intently on you, staring straight at you with a concentration that can be unsettling. Often Pizzonia would look away if you looked in the eyes, an outward betrayal of his confused emotional state.
It's a pretty astonishing situation to think that he is being looked at for replacement so early in the season, and Pizzonia seemed as surprised as anyone as to why it was happening. "I don't know really, because on the first four races I had a lot of mechanical problems, a lot," he noted. "In Imola before the qualifying I had two engine problems and one gearbox problem before qualifying, and I did very very little running before qualifying. Of course what people are concentrating on at the moment is qualifying, and racing is not only about qualifying. Anyway I think I still didn't have the opportunity to show what I can do, and I'm sure when I have the opportunity I'll do a good job."
Q: You've had a lot of support from the Williams team - Frank, Patrick, even Juan Pablo - how much has that helped you?
AP: Well, I mean, I think it's good to hear them saying good things, but in the end it doesn't make a lot of difference because I've still got to go out there and forget what's happening inside - it doesn't matter if it's good things or bad things, you know?
Q: Do you feel like you're getting enough support from the team?
AP: Well, at the moment yes - you know there's a lot of things going on in the press but at the moment I'm getting the support from the team that I needed, and that's the main thing.
Q: And how are things going in the car? Are you approaching anything differently today?
AP: No not really, nothing different, and I think we did quite well this morning. Unfortunately we didn't do a very long fuel run this morning, so I had a little bit more time in the back to come - I was hoping to be at least half a second quicker than the time this morning. And unfortunately we made a set up change which didn't help the car at all, and in qualifying the car was worse than this morning - I think that's why I couldn't do a better time than this morning.
Q: What are you looking for at the end of this weekend - what kind of goals do you have?
AP: Well in four races we could only finish one race so far, with one car only, so basically you have seven failures, which is quite a lot you know. The main thing is to finish the race, and hopefully in the points.
Q: And after that?
AP: Well I think that if I finish in the points then things will change here a little bit (laughs).
Over at McLaren the other side of the story was emerging. Jaguar spoke briefly to Ron Dennis before starting negotiations with Alexander Wurz to take over Pizzonia's seat, and although Dennis was a little annoyed by this situation he was happy to discuss the matter. "We were approached by Jaguar. They really didn't wait for a response before approaching Alexander, which was not particularly correct," he said. "We have made a proposal to Jaguar that could see Alexander leave and go to Jaguar. We think it's a very balanced proposal and it's for them to decide whether to accept it or not."
Dennis is at heart a racer, and although he understandably doesn't want to disrupt his testing processes, particularly with the new car coming through at the moment, he is not one to stand in the way of a tester who wants to get back to racing, as Olivier Panis, Nick Heidfeld and Ricardo Zonta will attest. "We have considered the position and we have made a proposal to Jaguar that could see Alex join them, but it is not negotiable and it is a fair reflection of what we believe he is worth," said Dennis. "We have always had a provision with our third driver of never standing in the way of their race careers, so we have made the position clear."
And the situation seemed clear enough - Jaguar were unhappy with Pizzonia's performances to date, and they wanted to replace him with Wurz, who could go to Jaguar if the price was right. Meanwhile the opinion in the paddock was turning - Pizzonia was being hard done by, as he hadn't had a reliable car under him yet to show what he is capable of. Frank Williams, a man who knows Pizzonia's abilities intimately, commented in Imola that he didn't think Pizzonia was over a second slower than Webber, the unspoken inference being that a lot of problems come from within the Jaguar camp. And although the drivers were available to the press, most of the team were invisible all weekend.
On Saturday free practice and qualifying came and went in a flash, and Pizzonia was to line up 16th on the grid, four places and 0.7 seconds behind Webber. A lot of the problems have arisen because of the comparison between the teammates, but Pizzonia disagreed with the media's take on the situation. And he was fighting back. "Well, probably with what's coming from the press I think that's the main reason," he notes, "but in the end people don't really know what's happening in the car - they just look at the lap times and the grid positions, and that's it. But anyway my problems are purely because I've been having a lot of mechanical problems, and tracks that I don't know really well and I don't have enough track time - I think that's a problem."
Q: With you being new there was always the assumption that you would be a little slower than Mark because he'd had an extra year in F1, but I don't think anyone expected quite the distance that there's been between you, especially in qualifying. How do you explain that difference?
AP: It's like I just said, you have to see the whole picture - in Imola I was on a totally different strategy to Mark; I was on two stops carrying a lot more fuel than him and he was on three stops carrying a lot less fuel than me. So it's not only lap times and positions - you have to analyse Sunday when you see when one guy is coming in, when the other guy is coming in to the pits - those kind of things.
Q: How is the co-operation between you and Mark?
AP: Okay - I am getting on with the team well, and I get on with Mark really well. I think we work well together.
Q: Do you exchange data?
AP: Yeah yeah - we do all those kind of things.
There was a suggestion in the paddock that Pizzonia should quit the team, because his paymasters were discussing his flaws in the media rather than approaching him about it. In the real world this might be a possibility - no one would accept their boss talking publicly about their failings without first discussing the situation with them, and the thought was that Pizzonia shouldn't either. And although this would have disrupted Jaguar's season - they have no reserve driver, and it would be difficult to find anyone of note before Austria - it wouldn't work in Formula One, where quitting would be seen as an admission of failure, that Pizzonia himself wasn't up to the task of competing at the pinnacle of motorsport. And that is not what he himself believes, so there was no chance of it happening.
On Sunday the team were discussing their options, and no news was forthcoming on the matter. Jaguar would have had to pay out a lot of money to drop Pizzonia - his year's salary at least, plus the 'transfer fee' to McLaren (who have a three-year contract with Wurz, and were reportedly looking for $2m to nullify it) as well as Wurz's salary. On top of yet another staff dismissal, and the subsequent scandal that was already erupting in the press, the top ranks at the team had to consider whether it was all worth it.
Everyone at Jaguar kept their head down and concentrated on the race, and understandably Webber was staying out of the fight - he had his own job to do here and nothing to be gained by entering his teammate's battles, and he didn't need to let it disrupt his preparations. "To be honest I've tried pretty much to stay out of it," Webber states. "There's been loads of stuff going down, and that's between Antonio and Jaguar really; I've just kept my nose out of it. As a team we can't ignore the fact that something was happening, but was it actually hurting our preparation, our laptimes? I don't think so."
Pizzonia obviously agreed, as his preparation had been pretty much as usual for the race. Which is unfortunate, as this weekend has gone much the same way as his previous four, with mechanical difficulties and subsequent disappointment from his laptimes and grid positions. If he was going to let his driving do the talking to shore up his position in the team then this weekend can be seen as a failure.
The perfect summation of his short Grand Prix history happened at the start of the race, where the launch control failed entirely and he was hit by Kimi Raikkonen without even crossing the start line, a victim once again of an unreliable car which led to a dangerous impact.
Q: Do you know what happened at the start yet?
AP: Well, we don't know exactly what happened, but the launch control didn't work and we had the same problem in Imola. It's a shame really, because we've been working so much on it, you know - we did so much work on it when we were testing last week in Mugello, and here as well Friday. Saturday we had no problems at all, and at the start it didn't work again.
Q: You and Mark had a similar problem in Imola - is it the same problem?
AP: We don't know exactly what happened yet, but it is similar to the one I had in Imola, very very similar.
Q: It's pretty unlucky with everything that's been hanging around this weekend - what now?
AP: Well, at least you know I'm safe in the team now - that's official.
Q: How's that?
AP: Well basically they came to me and they said that they realized that they made a mistake, and we carry on from now on, and hopefully get better and better each day. That's good news.
Q: Obviously this changes things - do you have more testing to come?
AP: Well I have a test next week on Friday in Paul Ricard, so hopefully we can do a lot of work on the traction control again, and the launch control systems to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Q: And then look forward to Austria obviously.
AP: Yep, yep - hopefully my season will start there.
He looked me in the eyes the whole time he talked to me, and the smile on his face was genuine. There was relief there, but pride too - he has fought his corner and won, in one of the most difficult work environments in the world.
And that was it: no official statement from Jaguar, with only a vague comment about both drivers raring to go at the A1-Ring slipped in at the bottom of their post-race release. It's hard to know what was the reason behind Jaguar's decision to keep Pizzonia - they suffered a public relations nightmare this weekend, which turned the positive press regarding the car's performance (in Webber's hands, at least) into a massive backlash for failing to support their young driver. On top of which there were some not unsubstantial financial costs to come if they carried through with their decision to drop him.
Whatever the reason, Pizzonia has a second chance at a Formula One career. There are a lot of people in the Jaguar organisation that are happy about this - when I showed one of their press people his comments about Jaguar apologizing to Pizzonia she laughed and called him a cheeky bugger, and there is a clear affection for the young driver in the team's motorhome.
But at the end of it all nothing has changed - Pizzonia has still got to prove he is worthy of a regular Formula One drive, because there are no second chances in this game. But equally Jaguar needs to improve too - two finishes from ten starts is an appalling result, and their reliability this year has been woeful. Could Pizzonia do a better job? Undoubtedly, but this doesn't forgive the team management for underperforming to date.
Because Formula One is the pinnacle of motorsports, and neither side of this equation has any claim to being there on their efforts so far.
He eases the car out of the pits while the world feed is at a commercial. He's got time on his side because of the break, and he's going to use it. He runs slower around the track than any other driver on his outlap - it feels like it's crawling to him, but he's got a plan. He's running slowly now to protect his tyres for the next lap, the fast one - if he nails it there's a tenth of a second in it for him, and in qualifying that's all the time in the world. He nurses the car around, checking his instruments and keeping an eye on the tyre pressures - if the pressure changes this could all be for nothing. He thinks about warm up, and he knows he's got to be careful at the chicane - if he's too aggressive he'll lock up and lose time, but if he's not aggressive enough he'll lose time there anyway. It's a fine line. He's got to beat 1:23.1, which was what he figured on before qualifying, and he's got the speed in the car to get there if he's on top of his game. He drags his brakes a bit where he can, after Acque Minerali and Variante Alta, to put some heat into them for the fast lap, and he starts to pick up the pace at last, aiming for the start line.
He didn't come from nowhere, but sometimes it seems that way. A few exceptional qualifying sessions in a car that no one was expecting anything from have suddenly thrust Mark Webber into the Formula One spotlight after a tough debut year in perennial back markers Minardi, following the trail previously blazed by his good friend Giancarlo Fisichella and Renault's Jarno Trulli.
A Minardi drive is a double edged sword - it's a seat in Formula One, and it puts you into the game and in front of the world, but the team usually struggles for performance against the others, which can lead people to think that the driver isn't up to the task. Webber claimed a fifth place result on debut in an incident-filled race in Melbourne, but it's probably his later drives that got him noticed by the movers and shakers of the paddock, where he took the battle to more highly favoured drivers. "I was very determined to make a massive effort to prove that I can do a good job and be taken seriously," Webber recalled in the Jaguar motorhome after qualifying fifth in Imola. "You don't see it at Minardi - you can drive so well there and no one sees it."
"You've just got to keep grounded. I had a lot of better drives at Minardi than Melbourne from a driving front, because I didn't have the car under me to push really. But then you go to races like Monaco and Magny Cours where I could push much more - I didn't get any points but they felt like better races to me, and that's a victory for Minardi in that sense." A victory for Webber too - his performances were noticed by then Jaguar team boss Niki Lauda, whose cars were being humbled by the young Australian. Lauda brought Webber into his team, and it has been paying dividends ever since.
Webber is under no illusions as to the difficulties he faces at Jaguar, the subsidiary of motoring giant Ford, which has been floundering more or less since the team's debut in 2000. The car's problems were apparent from his first test with the team last year. "I think the car last year had a lot of trouble on entry in high and medium speed corners," Webber states, "and when you've got that problem you have to make a lot of changes mechanically to calm that problem down, which means you have to sacrifice a lot and it hurts the lap time in the end."
Like his famous compatriot Alan Jones, Webber seems to revel in mixing in with the team to just get the job done, and constantly gives them credit for progress made - you can sense that he really feels like he's just another member of the team, with his feet on the ground and his eye on the prize. "Yeah, the guys have done a good job at understanding the problems we had last year and it's not easy," says Webber. "The progress we have made has been outstanding, I feel; it really has been good. But we've still got a long way to go.
"We've still got a lot to improve on, but we've had a lot of good medicine in the last few races. Okay, we still haven't got any runs on the board, we don't have any points, but internally with the boys, with the team, it's just what we needed - we've been through a tough winter, and hopefully we can get a few points now."
He's shining in qualifying, of course. The car is fast but fragile, which most drivers would prefer to the alternative, and given the car problems he's suffered in the races qualifying is where he is making his name for the moment. I asked John Hogan, Jaguar's new sporting director, if being outqualified by his teammate for the first time ever in Malaysia spurred him on to improve - he laughed and said that sometimes those are the things that get under a driver's skin. Webber, of course, had a more prosaic response.
"Well, in Malaysia we had different tyres to start with - he (Pizzonia) was on a soft tyre, I was on a hard tyre - so there's always reasons for it. If your teammate outperforms you in the same car with the same tyres and the same fuel load then it's a fair battle. I wasn't too disappointed with Malaysia - I still want to improve a little bit myself on the performance front, but I was on a hard tyre which is much much stronger for the race."
Which brings us to one of the problems arising from new qualifying regulations - it's much more difficult to appraise the relative performances of teammates. "It is a bit tougher compared to the old system, sure," agrees Webber, "because even now you get guys going out on a Friday with the same fuel loads, but things can be deceptive because of track grip and all sorts of stuff. Some teams you know here might hedge their bets either way on a three or two stop strategy, but it's hard to say. You might say Kimi [Raikkonen] and [David Coulthard] are on different strategies, except that DC locked up, you know - they're probably on the same fuel loads. I don't think it's a very good habit for teams to run different fuel loads."
He's at speed across the start line, fast and smooth towards and through Tamburello until the chicane. His line is wrong there, running slightly off and then onto the power too quickly mid corner. He regrets it instantly - it's what he said he wasn't going to do. But the lap is long and there's still time to make it up, and he's back onto the racing line and flying. Through sector one and he's 23.962 - almost four tenths down. There's work to be done.
Niki Lauda was at Imola for the race, the ghost of Christmas past as far as Jaguar's management is concerned, but when asked about Webber's performance this year his famously curt responses were betrayed by the smile of a proud father. "I employed him because I was sure he would do the job, and that's what he's here for. He's doing very well. It means that the choice of Mark was the right one, because he really delivers, and the car is a really good car - Mark qualified ahead of McLaren."
Despite the (now usual) dramas at the start of the year at Jaguar, Lauda is very proud of the achievements made by the team this year. "I was responsible to build the car, I was responsible to employ the drivers," Lauda stated, "so for me I am very happy because everything is going in the right direction. My target was to qualify in the first ten for every single race; Mark now is fifth, so he's doing very well."
DC: Your decision to pick him up certainly paid off for Jaguar
Lauda: "I have to ask myself, because I'm always very critical of myself, did I do the right job? But I think I've seen what happened, because the car which is there now is my car. Nobody of this new management has done anything to it, because I started this racing car last June. I certainly was responsible for it. I chose the drivers, I was responsible. I could say it was the perfect next step which has to be, like I said, you must qualify in the top ten to be able to finish in the points."
The problem for Lauda, of course, is that he doesn't know what the future holds for the team, as he's no longer involved in any way with it. "It will all depend on how the new management now can bring the car forward," he notes. "Now you have to see what the next step is going to be. So I am not aware of what they are going to do or what the programme is, of which is exactly the next step."
Which brings us to the new management. I asked Dr Mark Gillan, the Head of Vehicle Performance for Jaguar Racing, if he thought they had the bargain of the season in picking up Webber's contract. "Mark is the surprise of the season," Gillan agreed. "He is both quick in the car and a professional out of it. Certainly he is a core member of the team and well respected throughout the paddock."
DC: He must have well and truly lived up to your expectations so far
Gillan: "Yes, and gone beyond them. His performances in qualifying and in the race have been inspirational. His professionalism is outstanding and this is both in and out of the car."
DC: Ross Brawn famously remarked in 1997 that the true benchmark of the Ferrari was Eddie Irvine's times, and that the rest Michael Schumacher found was down to his skill - could a similar conclusion be drawn from the times of Pizzonia and Webber with regard to the R4?
Gillan: "No, Mark's pace in the R4 has been consistently quick and this is a true reflection of the car's pace. In fact, during qualifying in Imola he drove within his limits in order to get the car home safely."
DC: So where do you think the difference in time between your drivers comes from?
Gillan: "Lack of experience is definitely an issue for Antonio, we must remember that he has had far less time behind the wheel of the R4 and less knowledge of the circuits on the calendar this year."
DC: Jaguar has suffered from a lot of unreliability this year - what steps are in place to rectify this situation?
Gillan: "Our long term goal is of course to increase reliability, but this does not happen overnight. It takes time to change the infrastructure of any company and with our changes in management we are moving in the right direction. We are changing our working practices and concentrating on the quality of our parts."
You can see why Webber is thriving in Jaguar - the heads down, no nonsense approach to motor racing seems to run throughout the company. But I have to ask; has the team set goals for their position on the points table for the end of this year, and have they been changed given the remarkable improvement in qualifying recently? "We aim to gain respect and compete competitively in the midfield," comes Gillan's reply. "This was our goal at the beginning of the season and it remains our goal."
Flavio Briatore has done a lot of work to get Webber into Formula One, and it seems to be paying off now. He's obviously a busy man, as any team boss should be, and as such he has delegated a lot of Webber's day-to-day management to Ann Neal, Webber's personal manager. Briatore is proud of the driver's achievements, though, and knows that his faith is being repaid. "He's very good," Briatore states, "it's his first year in a competitive car and he's done a very good job, and I believe he's one of the surprises of Formula One, and he'll keep doing it like that." There seems to be so much potential in him, I tell Briatore. "Absolutely," he beams. "He's just getting better and better."
The Piratella is next, and the Imola curbs are tall and ominous. Too far over them and you can break your suspension, too far away from them and you're losing time. He nails the corner, runs smooth down to Acque Minerali and nails that too. The lap is coming back to him, getting faster as he goes. The sector two split is 51.718 - he's plus 0.2. He's bringing it back.
After the race, of course, the mood in the Jaguar motorhome is more downbeat - Webber was plagued with bad luck throughout, from the launch control problems both drivers suffered, to the pit lane speed limiter failure to the eventual drive shaft failure which finished his race for him. It's not always down to the car of course - Webber lost a point scoring result in Brazil when he destroyed the car while trying to keep his degrading intermediate tyres together by running through some water on the track, an understandable but costly error on his part.
Nevertheless, Imola was seen as an acid test for the team before the race, as the circuit layout is favourable to the car - so has it lived up to expectations, the car problems notwithstanding? "Yeah," Webber acknowledges, "and it was a good indication as we saw so many others pitting before us, you know, and Ralf pitting one lap after us. There were a lot of things that were again encouraging. It's not easy to remain positive in these times, but we put our stake in the ground a long way out there today, so we want to have a very very strong result - it's very easy to fall short of that expectation. We fell well short today, but it's still a long season. You'll see a party here shortly."
Where to from here for the team? "There might be a few circuits where we might have some difficulty in being really, really fast," Webber states. "Like the next Grand Prix could be quite tough for us, [Barcelona] is a massively demanding circuit on aero, on efficiency, all sorts of stuff. Our aero has come on leaps and bounds, it's very, very good, but we have to remember where we were six months ago and we also have to be careful that our goals don't change very very quickly.
"I don't want to be mean, but if you look at the overlays of what Eddie did last year with the same fuel load, we're 3 seconds quicker. 3 seconds! And okay tyres, new car, all that stuff, but the guys have done a really good job. It is a bit of an acid test here, and Brazil, but there are some tracks that we can really do well at."
Of course Formula One never stands still, and Webber is aware enough to know that there is a lot of work still to do, despite the progress made this year. "There are areas we can improve on," he notes, "and we are chipping away at it. We're going to have a three-day test next week, which is good for us. I'm not going to sit here and tell you what our weaknesses are, but we know what they are and we're going to work on them for the next few months and see where we are."
DC: Jaguar are one of four teams who have foresworn unlimited testing during the season, of course. Can the Friday testing schedule actually help improve the car over a season?
Webber: "I'm not sure - if you do it officially then you still can look quite good actually. Test mileage is always [good] to get on top of problems, and we don't do the mileage of McLaren - they're on top for a reason - but things can come along hopefully over the year. We'll just chip away - we don't have any new car coming; we're just laying the foundations for improvement, and the foundations are hopefully coming into place - we're in the top five already."
DC: It must be hard to remain so motivated with all the reliability niggles though, surely?
Webber: "The last few races have gone really well for me. I've got a lot of trust in the car, and we're competing with people we weren't even thinking about - they are months ahead, you could argue they are 8, 10 months ahead of us - and it's very satisfying to me. I've worked very hard, kept my head down, and I'm happy with my career - the hard work is paying off. Things happen for a reason, and when the going gets tough you're stronger for it. Now, when you have a hard day at the office, it's like water off a duck's back - you've got to bounce back the next day, and maybe some of the younger guys struggle to do that because they haven't got the depth, haven't had the knocks for it."
The current benchmark for the drivers is Michael Schumacher. Throughout his career his pronouncements on the other drivers in the series are taken by the media and people around the world as an indication that they have made it into the big time. Schumacher has been saying a lot of positive things about Webber lately, which must be a thrill for the man who famously has all of Schumacher's wins on videotape back at his parents' home.
"I just go about my job, I suppose," Webber dryly comments. "I do my best and I spend some time talking to you guys, but when I was driving karts he was driving the 7Up Jordan at Spa. He's a five-time World Champion, so it's not a bad thing to have a guy like that say something nice about you, I guess. But I haven't got any runs on the board yet you know; I haven't done anything. But I'm learning a lot and I'll keep going."
He's been quick through sector three all weekend, faster than almost anyone. The Rivazzas are tricky, but he's had the line there from the start. The power is there for the long run through to Variante Bassa, and he's using it to the limit. It's fast, he knows that, and there's only the chicane before the front straight to go. Conservative through it - there's nothing to be gained and everything to be lost here, as he saw from Fisichella - and then boot it across the line. 1.23.015 - minus 0.14 - P1. I've done it, he smiles to himself inside of his helmet. The other four guys should go quicker, but it's top five at least. It's enough for now - the rest will come.