SEPANG, Malaysia, April 8, 2011 (AFP) - Mark Webber proved Friday that he is a scrapper who performs better when he draws on his self-confessed "mongrel" spirit than by trying to stay cool, calm and collected.
The 34-year-old Australian wiped out his frustrations at the season-opener in Melbourne when he topped the times in both opening practice sessions for Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix. And he made light of any need for sympathy and support -- as offered this week by his Red Bull team boss Christian Horner -- by getting his head down and competing hard.
"I've always had some good mongrel in me," said Webber. "If your team-mate is winning Grands Prix and you're not, that's not good. The bar is being lifted and you need to respond."
Webber finished fifth, equalling his two other best finishes at Albert Park, in Melbourne two weeks ago as his world champion team-mate Sebastian Vettel, 23, won in dominant and glorious style.
Webber, upset by his performance and that of his car, crossed the finish line and immediately parked his vehicle at the end of the pit lane.It was an act of frustration that provoked dismay among his Australian fans -- and a major team inquest into what Webber felt was a personal disaster.
Horner conceded there were "a few issues raised in a post-mortem" that had contributed to Webber's miserable weekend on home soil, but stressed there was no threat to his place in the team. "In Melbourne, I think there were a combination of factors, such as the fact Sebastian was in electrifying form," said Horner.
"There was also a set-up direction Mark chose that was a little bit different to Sebastian, but we are talking minimal differences here. And then we found a small issue with a rear damper on Mark's car. "So you try to piece together a puzzle, but there is no smoking gun to say, yes, there was a performance difference or whatever."
Horner added that he felt Albert Park was simply a difficult circuit for Webber, despite the fact he was racing in front of his home fans."Melbourne has never been a particularly great event for Mark. It has almost been like a bogey circuit for him," he said.
"The best he has done is to finish fifth for Minardi, fifth for Williams and now fifth for Red Bull. But I believe he will be back to his best here and I don't think he will dwell on that. I expect him in good form."
Webber, as expected, refused to talk about his Melbourne tantrum when he arrived in Kuala Lumpur and continued in the same vein Friday. After topping the times, he said: "We're all pretty close, give or take a couple of tenths (of a second): who got traffic, who didn't, how their KERS worked. So far, so good, I'm towards the front somewhere."
Vettel, fourth, but right on the pace, said: "A usual Friday, I would say. We more or less did what was planned and didn't have any big problems. A lot of laps and a lot we took on board. "Tyre-wear is very different to Melbourne, the tyres don't last as long, but I think that's the same for everyone. It looked very close this afternoon, so we'll have to see tomorrow."
Knowing Webber as he does, Vettel will be wary, and ready, for a major fight-back from his team-mate. He knows Webber will want to win and close the gap at the top of the title-race before a pattern emerges. "Mark is a great driver and a big competitor," he said. "We work as a team and we work for the team, but I know he wants to win too. We have to be ready for that and for a big push from McLaren and Ferrari. Anything can happen."
Mark Webber on track at Sepang: