Mark Webber left the big question unanswered at the Bahrain Grand Prix on Thursday: Who paid for his dinner with Fernando Alonso?
Ferrari’s Alonso, the race winner in China last Sunday, set the ball rolling earlier in the week when he posted a picture on Twitter of himself and Webber dining together in Dubai.
Alonso then deleted the image but Webber had copied and ‘retweeted’ it.
Formula One’s conspiracy theorists had a field day, with some seeing a deliberate taunt to Webber’s Red Bull team mate Sebastian Vettel after the triple world champion ignored orders in Malaysia and passed the furious Australian to win the race.
The two Red Bull drivers have been barely on speaking terms since then and Webber dining with Vettel’s main rival from last year set tongues wagging.
Asked by a German television reporter whether it was “a provocation”, and whether Red Bull’s billionaire Austrian owner Dietrich Mateschitz was upset, Webber evidently thought the world had taken leave of its senses.
Never mind political upheaval, and the civil unrest and protests that have been the focus of much of the run-up to the most controversial race of the season, the media were making a meal out of a meal.
“I have known Fernando for 13 years,” he said. “I can give you lots of photos of me and Jenson (Button) together. Many drivers catch up socially. I think there is a little bit of paranoia coming.
“If that’s the biggest subject, you guys are in trouble to be honest. If that’s your biggest subject, about a dinner, then you have to work harder. Let me tell you.”
Webber and Alonso share a manager in Italian Flavio Briatore, former boss of the Renault team where Alonso won his two titles and where Webber was once a test and reserve driver.
Alonso made his debut with Minardi in 2001, Webber in 2002.
The Spaniard was asked separately how he would feel if his team mate Felipe Massa had dinner with Vettel. “Nothing,” he replied. “In Spain we say ‘The thief thinks everyone is a thief’.”
“If I see a photo of someone having dinner I think he’s having dinner.
“We talked more about bicycles than Formula One...about his Tasmania race, his accident and how his leg is. But when I put it on Twitter, all the replies were about Vettel and stuff like that. Those are conspiracy theorists.”
As Italian reporters rushed up to Webber to ask him who had paid - “You need to ask Fernando,” he replied with a smile - Vettel provided some commonsense.
“We all have to have dinner at some point,” said the German. “And it’s quite boring to have it all on your own.”