Given the strength of Mark Webber's friendship with Fernando Alonso you have to wonder why he turned down the chance to drive alongside him in 2013. The evidence of that friendship was plain to see after the Singapore Grand Prix when Fernando Alonso stopped his car in the middle of a corner to pick Mark up for an expensive taxi ride back to the pits. It's that same friendship that may well have been the trigger to the booing Sebastian Vettel has had to endure at some grands prix this year. Before Mark hangs up his helmet he needs to answer some tough questions.
The Singapore taxi ride has been debated all this week but you get a sense of Webber's tendency to slant things when you read what he has to say about it.
Alonso's sudden stop in the middle of a corner on the slowing down lap was a surprise to other drivers, especially seeing as he was in front of most of the field at that stage. FIA footage from CCTV cameras show Webber waving to Alonso as he runs toward the Ferrari on its slowing down lap, ignoring the marshals, before he sprints around to the left hand side of the Ferrari. Nico Rosberg has to swerve to the left of Webber, and a few seconds later Lewis Hamilton comes across the scene and has to take to the kerbs on the outside.* An unguarded Hamilton admitted he was "shocked" to come across a car in that position. Singapore is a long old race and so drivers will just want to get back to the garage for some relief, they won't be expecting an obstruction.
After the race the drivers were summoned to see the stewards. Webber got a reprimand for ignoring the marshals and not getting permission to go out on track. Alonso's reprimand was for stopping in a dangerous place, which was in the middle of Turn 7 where he couldn't be seen by cars entering the corner. Neither was for the taxi ride back to the pits - which was great F1 theatre.
To a certain extent you have to feel sorry for Alonso who might have found it hard to drive past his buddy after Mark stuck his thumb out - but presumably he knew there might be consequences, having been summoned to the stewards for stopping to collect a Spanish flag at the Spanish Grand Prix. On that day the stewards made the right choice in not punishing him, but the stewards couldn't turn a blind eye to this one as it was done so inexpertly.
Both Mark and Fernando mocked the decision on their Twitter feeds in the days afterwards. Webber retweeted a photo montage of other F1 driver taxi rides from history, and drew attention to Singapore GP stewards' driver representative Derek Warwick hitching a lift on Gerhard Berger's Ferrari. But he already knew that the taxi ride itself was not what he was penalised for.
And Webber will know that some rules in the sport have changed since 1988
One of Webber's post-race tweets was:
"And while I'm at it, contrary to reports, there was no interaction at all with any track officials after we put the fire out."
So by his own admission he's saying he didn't check that it was okay to run out onto the circuit. He's got earpieces in, a helmet on and there are F1 cars howling around the streets of Singapore. When drivers are in their garages you don't see people having normal conversations with them when they've got their helmets on. How does he know that they weren't yelling at him to stay where he is? The CCTV footage shows them waving at him to stop - presumably they didn't do that silently.
Alonso and Webber were properly dealt with in Singapore and their subsequent behaviour in trying to undermine the decision should be taken up by the race stewards in Korea.
Now that we've established that Mark's a big mate of Fernando Alonso and that he's not as upfront as some people might think he is, let's go back to Brazil 2012 and Malaysia 2013. But before that, let's stop by at the Singapore podium. Christian Horner said he was really disappointed that Seb got the continued jeering
"I don't know what it is, to be honest with you," Horner told Autosport. "I think that for sure Malaysia did not help but, as we know, Malaysia has happened. It's been done, there has been an awful lot written about it and there were circumstances that were involved in that."
Again the hint - "there were circumstances involved in that." There is still a truth to come out of that unhappy result, and the more Vettel is jeered and the more Webber revered, the more likely we're going to be told what those "circumstances" were. It isn't particularly hard to guess and here's the Planet F1 Winners and Losers column from Brazil 2012 which might be a clue:
Mark Webber, Red Bull, 4th
Christian Horner must have been on auto-pilot/auto-quote after the race when he called Mark Webber a great team player. It's hard to know what help he was at the start when he moved across and blocked Vettel's line, forcing him to give up places to Alonso and Hulkenberg. That was the one thing he had to do, make sure Seb got a clean get away and he blocked him. It's not like he didn't know Vettel was going to be there.
Then on the re-start after the Safety Car he attacked his team-mate into Turn 1 and put him under the kind of pressure he really didn't need. As it was he ran wide and dropped from 7th to 11th.
The start of the race in Brazil was in tricky conditions not wet enough for Inters, but not dry either. It needed maximum coordination from the team. Webber produced a performance that looked like he was either very inexperienced or he was treating Seb like any other driver on the grid. Had Vettel been hit harder on the opening lap (and the damage was pretty substantial as it was), then Mark's best friend in F1, Fernando Alonso, would have been World Champion.
Malaysia 2013 and Vettel ignoring "multi 21" was surely the payback for Webber ignoring team instructions he was given in Brazil to help his team-mate out. Vettel should have obeyed team orders that day, just as Webber should have been following them in Brazil. Now it's Seb who's suffering the consequences while Mark is seen as the injured party.
It's time for Christian Horner to explain the "circumstances" and before he retires it's time for Mark to answer some awkward questions from journalists. Sky in the UK should get their big monitor out and talk Mark through the start of the race in Brazil 20102 and the re-start. What were his thoughts that day?
Will we ever get the truth? Or will we get more of the post-Singapore PR - making himself out to be the injured party when really he should have had taken more care and about safety. Having been high up in the Grand Prix Drivers' Association that campaigns for safety, you'd think he'd be a bit more contrite. But maybe this doesn't come as such a great surprise to Sebastian Vettel.
*some have suggested this should be a retrospective drive-through penalty for forcing another driver off the track and 25 seconds added to his time, giving him P6 instead. Imagine Stefano Domenicali's face...