Valencia: Mark Webber has sent out a warning to Red Bull's rivals that he is getting back up to speed after putting in his strongest performance of the year at Red Bull's weakest track.
The Australian may have finished only third in Sunday's European Grand Prix but team principal Christian Horner was smiling afterwards.
"It was Mark's best race of the season in terms of his performance on those tyres," he told reporters. "It's the closest he has been to Sebastian all season. He drove well this weekend."
Red Bull's Formula One champion Sebastian Vettel won in Valencia, chalking up his sixth victory in eight races so far, and is now a massive 77 points clear of Webber and McLaren's Jenson Button.
Button and his team mate Lewis Hamilton are the only drivers to have beaten Vettel this campaign with Webber struggling to match the 23-year-old's pace on the new Pirelli tyres introduced this year.
A championship leader and contender down to the final race of 2010, Webber has not won a race since Hungary last August.
Valencia, a circuit where the Australian crashed spectacularly last year, suggested Webber was getting on top of the tyre problems and could put Vettel under more pressure in future.
"I hope so," said Horner. "I hope he keeps building up the momentum from this weekend.
"He's made no secret of the fact he's struggled more on these tyres than Sebastian. I think he's understanding them better now.
"If you look at the time difference between the guys during the race he was never more than four or five seconds away for 90 percent of the race, which is the best we've seen all year," added Horner.
"He'll take a lot of confidence out of the weekend."
The next race up is Silverstone in two weeks time, a race Webber won last year after complaining that Vettel was being favoured by the team.
There have been no such public complaints so far this year and Webber, who has had one pole position this year to Vettel's seven, will be hoping to be even more on his team mate's tail.
"It was the closest I have been for a while," he said of Sunday. "In qualifying in Canada it was very close between us with the KERS situation but racing is when it counts. But I think I am getting better.
"I learnt a lot today. I was happy with my performance and I will come back better for the next race. “
"I think this is probably our weakest track of the year, maybe, so we didn't do too badly," he grinned even if for many it was also the dullest race of the season. “
"We have a different regulation from Silverstone onwards and we expect that we can still be pretty competitive again. If we can keep Valencia as one of our weakest, definitely our top three weakest tracks,... we should go OK on the other ones."
Formula One's governing body is clamping down on teams' use of engine electronics to control the flow of exhaust gases and give a performance advantage even when a driver lifts off the throttle.
Some rivals had hoped Red Bull would be hit more than others but Valencia suggested that would be far from the case.
"Historically we prefer tracks with high speed corners so Silverstone coming up should be a good one for us," said Vettel.
"Now the rules change slightly. It's the same for everyone, so if we are not allowed to do that any more, its (the same for) the others as well."
First Published: Monday, June 27, 2011, 19:32