September 25th, 2013 (F1plus/G. Keilloh).- To borrow from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem.
And so it may apply to Mark Webber. The common narrative among those watching on is it that one of these days he'll reveal a t-shirt under his workwear, in the style of Mario Balotelli, reading 'why always me?' The perception of many is that it is indeed always Webber; that he has something close to a monopoly on Red Bull technical bad luck. Some go so far as to mutter conspiratorial suggestions about it all. That it was his engine, not stable mate Sebastian Vettel's, that went pop in Sunday's Singapore race was just the latest lot of grist to this particular mill.
But is it as it seems, or is it that the common perception doesn't chime with fact? There is at least potential for the latter being so, as after all Vettel is usually the more successful of the two, and it's life that the worse your outcomes are the more that setbacks and supposed 'ill-luck' will be dwelt upon. And it manifests itself in F1 especially, including that in motor sport the leader, uniquely, is in the privileged position of managing problems, to drive well within the car's limits, and still get the same result (and let's face it, Seb leads much more often than Mark does).
And, at the broadest level, the numbers don't really bear 'it's always Mark' out. In Austin last year Webber retired with alternator trouble, but that was his first mechanical retirement in 59 races, or in other words for upwards of three years. Brake failure at the 2009 Singapore Grand Prix was the previous time that technical gremlins stopped Webber early. And, for what it's worth, Vettel had to down tools ahead of time with mechanical failures in five separate races in that time. One suspects had it been the other way around that comparison would have been reported more forcibly.
Since then there's been little difference too. Last Sunday's stoppage only made it 2-1 to Webber over Vettel on mechanical retirements this season, and Webber only noses ahead thanks to a wheel not being attached properly in a pit stop in China. Something which can be filed under freak.
A-ha, some will say, this does not take into account technical problems that impede Webber without stopping him (and Webber has in the past for example seemed to have problems with KERS rather frequently). This is true, but equally it's not as if Seb never gets them. He of course had a gear selection problem in Monza which required him to short shift, while in Singapore he complained of a vibration which the team reckons could have lost him victory had any rival been in the same stratosphere on pace.
And there are more examples in this campaign: in Australia's FP1 Vettel stopped with an electrical problem; in China he didn't set a time in Q3 due to a brake issue; in Germany his KERS failed in the race, as well as he couldn't use it at its highest level on Hungary's race day. While, lest we forget, in Abu Dhabi towards the end of last season he missed almost all of FP3 with a brake problem and then was shunted to the back of the grid after something caused him to not make it back to the pits at the end of qualifying as well as not to have enough fuel for the obligatory sample. There are plenty of other instances from history too.
I'd really love one of these days for someone to do a proper analysis of the extent, if at all, that Webber indeed does get more of these problems than Vettel. It wouldn't surprise me if the difference isn't nearly as stark as is often assumed.