Wednesday, July 15, 2009

If at first you don't succeed...

Mark Webber entered F1 in 2002 with a bang, netting fifth place (worth two points back then) in his first race driving a Minardi. Yes he was helped by a first corner accident which, basically, took out 8 of the 22 cars but he still had to fend off a hard charging Mika Salo for the final ten laps. The rest of the year didn't quite continue that incredible result (that was Minardi's first points since Marc Gene's sixth place effort at the Nurburgring in 1999) but the platform was set and Jaguar snapped him up for the next season.

Mark produced one of his finest drives in his debut race; 5th at the Aussie GP in '02.

After producing the qualifying lap of his, then short, F1 career in Brazil (third), he then equalled it at Hungary later in the season, causing most people to believe he was just a 'one lap specialist'. That form continued on in 2004, where he hauled the underperforming 'big cat' onto the front row for the first time. Such was his ability to get more out of the car than was thought, Williams wasted no time in signing him to fill the shoes of McLaren bound, Juan Montoya.

At Jaguar, Mark proved that given the right car, he could match it at the front.

2005 also saw the first year Mark was up against some seriously good opposition in the other team car; namely Nick Heidfeld...who, as most of you already know, I say is the most underrated driver on the grid. It was a frustrating year all in all, given how well Williams finished 2004. Monaco was the highlight when he outmuscled the Champion elect, Fernando Alonso, a few laps after watching his teammate do the same, to score his first podium, following Nick home in third. The lowlight came, ironically, the next race where, having started on the second row, he collided with Montoya at turn one, and then watched as Heidfeld finished second.

Mark finished that year with his "must beat your teammate" record still intact, scoring 36 points to Nick's 28 but 2006 saw the BMW powerplant leave Williams and follow Heidfeld to Sauber, meaning yet another new teammate for Webber. Nico Rosberg was the man and, with Cosworth power, both drivers started the year with a hiss and a roar. They were helped that Williams were the next best Bridgestone shod team, behind Ferrari, so any weekend when the Bridgies were the tyre to have, the Williams' were able to hang near the front. A point proved at Monaco where Mark was in a position to win the race, being as close as he was to both Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen...but it wasn't to be as, not for the first time that year, mechanical issues sidelined the Australian.

Sadly a common sight during his time at Williams; another breakdown.

He was touted as the driver to replace Alonso (who had signed for McLaren) at the all-conquering Renault team, but instead chose to join Red Bull as teammate to David Coulthard...a move that, until this year, one couldn't really figure out why he went as he passed up the same seat in favour of the Williams in 2005. Mark said he was a little awed at going to "Fernando's team" and possibly felt he wouldn't be able to produce his best. 2007 saw him get his second podium finish, again a third, and his second chance of a potential win. This time, it was the youthful exuberance of Sebastian Vettel who ruined that opportunity as he clouted Mark while under safety car conditions. It wouldn't be the the last he heard the name 'Vettel' either.

The Red Bull 'B' team, Toro Rosso, had Ferrari power for 2008 while Red Bull had Renault. While Vettel flourished in the second half of the year, Webber began to struggle as the Renault's lack of horsepower started to make things difficult to make progress with the car. Indeed, some pundits were curious as to why Vettel was picked as Coulthard's replacement at Red Bull when his current car was faster.

Enter Adrian Newey; design genius.

The man behind the Williams' of the early 1990's and the McLaren's of the late 1990' other words, whenever tricky rules were put in place, Newey tended to find the best design...2009 saw a lot of rule changes.

Finally, Mark gets his paws on a competitive car.

It also saw what most people expected to be Webber's downfall, a catch 22 situation as, for the first time, he had a fast car capable of producing the results but the guy he had to beat was being hailed as the next big thing in racing. And oh yeah, he suffered a broken leg and shoulder from a bike crash during the offseason so the first half of 2009 he's driven with a metal rod in his leg.

He watched as Sebastian scored Red Bull's first win in China, with Mark coming home second. But he wasn't about to go quietly into the night and, while Vettel had the upper hand in qualfying, Webber started to turn the tide during the races. Going into last weekends' race at the Nurburgring, Vettel had just 3.5 points on Webber...not bad for a bloke who no one gave much of a chance to match the young German.

It was Mark who got the pole on Vettel's home turf, and it was Mark who drove away from everyone during the race. Such was his performance, that had he not backed off at the end or been hit with a drivethrough penalty for 'rough driving' at the start, Webber would have gone close to beating Vettel by 30 seconds...or half a second a lap. Either way you want to put it, Mark thumped everyone at Germany and it was a very popular win for a guy who is pretty well liked. Webber has a knack for getting the most, sometimes more, out of the car and that kind of driver usually doesn't have to wait seven years to be given the equipment his talent deserves...but that just made it all the more special.

It took 8 years for Mark and 28 years for Australia, but the Aussie anthem got dusted off at last!

Hearing his emotion over the radio on the cool down lap, hearing that Australian anthem being played on the podium and the flag hoisted high above for the first time since 1981 made this Aussie very, very proud.

I think BBC commentator and ex-F1 driver, Martin Brundle, summed it up best; he's been a nearly-man, and now he's turned it into a really-man. And here's an interesting stat to finish off with - until last weekend, there had been only two Aussies to have won a Grand Prix; Sir Jack Brabham and Alan Jones...and both of them went on to win F1 championships.


  1. Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi! Oi! Oi!

    I'll have to grab you some Webber stuff when I hit Oz in October. Great win for him and great blog on his history...

    Those RedBull cars have a sweet paint scheme in F1. So weird the teammates are so competitive, doesnt seem like they are in NASCAR as much.

  2. NASCAR appears to be much more friendly...both Juan and Scott have said that. You don't get a Michael Schumacher happily giving away the best racing lines to a David Coulthard like you do in NASCAR, lol

    and yes, I like the RBR paint job too...not as good as the Jags were but hey, can't have everything I guess :P

  3. tez, nice write on Webber. Thanks for keeping us Yanks informed on the drivers from "down under" I root for Ambrose weekly, I can't wait to hear his first interview from a Nascar victory lane. He will certainly be "fizzed up"

  4. Tez, Great post,, I got to watch the Qualifying and it was a tight one till the time ran out. So many things came to him that it was just his race to win with having to do a stop for that bump on the start of the race was a joke.


  5. no worries, stork. You will hear me cheering when Marcos does win....heck, Forensic would hear me in the UK, LOL!

    I thought it was a bit harsh as well, Forensic....but hey, nothing was going to deny him in that race ;)

  6. Some thing tells me I been missing a lot of action in F1. Great article Tez.