Mark Webber struggles in the shadow of his dominant team-mate, the young German taking the record books and throwing them out the window. His talent is often questioned but I’m always at the frontline of a debate to defend the Aussie, whom I believe to be extremely talented and one of F1’s best.
Starting with the start, He began racing motorbikes when he was a kid, not moving to four wheels until he was 14. Yep, You have Lewis Hamilton, earmarked as one of the best, beginning karting when he was 8. The Aussie didn’t start until almost double that, yet he has still fought his way tooth and nail up through the teams into the best team on the grid.
As I mentioned, he has had to fight his way up. Unlike Lewis Hamilton or Sebastian Vettel, he didn’t have a team nurturing him and pushing him along with an almost 100% chance of a seat. No, Mark had to start at the bottom. The very bottom. He joined F1 in 2002 and straight away stormed the grid, bringing his Minardi home in 5th place, despite driving by far the slowest car on the grid. This trait of wringing the neck off his car and extracting every sinew of performance from it have come to be recognised as a Webber trait, much like close friend and fellow competitor Fernando Alonso.
He battled with the Minardi for the rest of the season but despite no more points finishes, he was awarded both Autosport and F1 Racing’s Rookie of the Year award, aswell as being compared by Peter Windsor to Nigel Mansell, as Mark expressed similar raw talent.
His career with Williams from 2005-2006 is often used as a point against him, but his lack of success with the team really can’t be blamed on him. Look at 2006 for example when he suffered a whopping EIGHT mechanical failures, including an engine failure in Monaco while fighting for a podium, starting from the front row. This kind of mechanical failure over and over and over would break a person, except for the aptly named Aussie Grit.
Signing with the laughing-stock of Formula One in 2007 was questioned, as even though he’d been blighted by bad luck, his talent, courage and charisma surpassed the retirements and he was highly regarded in the paddock. He proved his critics wrong, showing undying determination when he fell ill with food poisoning in Japan. Vomiting in his helmet during a ridiculously wet race, which would be no walk in a park, he denied his engineers prompts to come in, instead racing around with vomit swirling around his helmet. How many drivers would do that these days? Then again, Mark’s efforts were for 2nd place and they were later ended when Sebastian Vettel in a Toro Rosso got caught out and smacked into the back of him, forcing a retirement.
When Mark won his first race in 2009, he was recovering from a drive through penalty at the start of the race, and even with the twenty-second or so addition to his race time, he still cruised to a fantastic win. Followed up by another win in Brazil, he was left with a taste for winning and a burning desire, quenched with wins in Catalunya, Monaco, Silverstone and Hungary in 2010.
He was close to winning the championship in 2010, indeed he was backed by most people, Murray Walker for example, but he threw this chance away in Korea with a spin into the wall in the wet. He eventually lost the championship by 15 points.
Obviously, the man has faults. One such example is his 2011 campaign. Loosing the championship in 2010 combined with not being able to get to grips (excuse the pun) with the new Pirelli’s cost him dearly, being gifted his sole win of 2011 when his team-mate, who had won the Championship in spectacular fashion, thanked him for his loyalty to the team and moved over. Without this, Mark would have gone a full season within out a win.
Yet, one only has to look at Mark’s overtake on Alonso on Eau Rouge in 2011, or his overtake on Fernando Alonso around the outside in Luffield in 2012 to see that there’s life in the old dog yet. Or look at his hiding of his broken shoulder in 2010 or his two fractured ribs in 2005, so that he could race; this guy is committed.
I thoroughly admire his unending commitment, determination and his unwillingness to back down to team-orders and I think he’ll be a worthy opponent in 2013, the Year of the Oz?