I was thinking of where to start with after six long months of absence from blogging and finally figured out where I should be. As Formula One makes giant leap into a new era of turbo-engined revolution, there was an end of an era we all have witnessed at last year’s finale in Brazil – Mark Webber calling it a day on his Grand Prix career. I certainly want to dedicate this piece of writing to the often outright spoken Australian who had been around the paddock for more than a decade and inevitably would be forgotten by many as he was not a world champion.
With nine victories and 42 podiums, one might think Mark deserves a world champion status,which he truly does, but it will go down in history as something he has failed to achieve. Something many of the great drivers who spent their life in F1 flunked to, like Sir Stirling Moss, Ronnie Peterson, David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello to mention a few.
Webber’s journey into F1 wasn’t a smooth sailing; he almost quit racing in British F3 had it not been for Australian rugby legend David Campese to his rescue financially. After playing test driver role with Arrows and Benetton, Australian millionaire Paul Stoddart helped him realise his boyhood dream come true with a Minardi drive in 2002 – the team which was well-known for nurturing young talents into the grandest stage.
On his debut, Mark broke the points jinx for the backmarker team in two years with a memorable fifth place finish after starting 18th at his home GP in Melbourne. He switched to Red Bull after driving for Jaguar and Williams in 2007 with the only highlight being a podium in Monaco for the latter along with several front row starts.
With Adrian Newey at the helm and sufficient Red Bull funding, his first victory came together at the 2009 German GP with a fabulous drive. He romped into title contention the following year with back to back wins at Valencia and the prestigious streets of Monaco.
Soon later, things started falling into pieces from the next race in Istanbul internally at the Austrian outfit as Webber and Vettel collided while battling for the lead. At Silverstone, Red Bull removed the new-spec front wing to the incognisant of Webber and bolted it on to Vettel’s car. The infamous “Not bad for a number two driver” remark after Webber winning that British GP spectacularly portrayed Red Bull’s clear favouritism towards Vettel in public. But despite all that Webber led the championship with 16 points until the final few races. That’s where he lost the momentum and let the title slip through his hands to Sebastian Vettel with a fair share of bad lucks and untimely mistakes.
2011 was a season of unprecedented Red Bull dominance with Vettel making the surge to his second consecutive world title while Webber struggling with the newly instated Pirelli rubber, which he had been critical of ever since, on the grounds of qualifying and also on racedays. Webber stood on the top step of the podium only once while Vettel clinched 11 victories that year.
Although Webber endured successes in Monaco and Silverstone yet again, 2012 was a forgettable season as he slumped to sixth in the drivers’ standings after being a victim of some retirements and often messing up the initial lunge from the grid. There were speculations about retaining Mark for 2013 but finally when a deal was penned it was thought to be his last season and it certainly had been. Halfway through last season in July, Webber announced his retirement to opt for Porsche’s sportscar programme in the LMP1 category.
He signed off the season in style after securing a podium in his last ever Formula 1 race. Webber’s relationship with Vettel had always been a turbulent one despite admiring the German’s talent behind the wheel. Webber often described his life at Red Bull as “on the edge” which was clearly demonstrated by the “multi 21” gate at the Malaysian GP where Vettel ignored team orders and didn’t allow Webber to take the chequered flag ahead of him with facing no consequences from the team whatsoever.
The Queanbeyan-born star is a splendid wheel-to-wheel racer and never doubted his ability to extract the maximum out of his car. Vettel, who likes to build the team all around himself, had a decisive tenth or two advantage over him in qualifying which constituted better getaway in the early laps on Sunday from pole while Mark’s fluffy starts off the line meant he would spend more time in playing catch up. It’s fair to say Mark was on his prime when Red Bull started to challenge the highly funded teams but as the seasons went by the momentum shifted to the skillful German who was seen as the potential future which he had become. In F1 they say, the most woeful aspect of being a driver is getting beaten by your own team-mate which had been the state-of-affairs for the F1’s elder statesman in 2013.
Nevertheless, the Australian is a proven race winner at the highest level of motorsport and finished third in the drivers’ standings thrice in 2010, 2011 and 2013. He will certainly be missed by many in the sport for his presence and the fans around the world including me! His replacement and fellow countryman, Daniel Ricciardo, however, looks set to be the next big Australian prospect in F1 and has already shown glimpses of a highly potent racing driver who apparently never stops smiling.