Mark Webber’s announced departure from Formula One should hardly be classed as a surprise. The now infamous “Multi 21” incident earlier and various other historic run-ins with a certain 3 times world Champion whose name sounds suspiciously similar to Kettle, have made his position at the Austrian/Milton Keynes manufacturer untenable.
What has always puzzled me was his popularity, which to be frank, is massive. Badger GP is a loyal fan of the honorary Brit too.
Fans love Mark Webber, and his run-ins with Vettel have only seemingly strengthened the Aussie’s popularity and image as a back-to-the-wall scrapper.
Although his career in Formula 1 has managed to be both spectacular and underwhelming at the same time.
Starting at the lowly Minardi team in 2002, he was handed a 3 race contract at the start of the season by then team owner, and all round Australian folk hero, Paul Stoddart alongside Malaysian money-man Alex Yoong. Despite qualifying 18th of 22, 4 seconds slower than the pole position time – he was nearly 2 seconds a lap faster than Yoong and managed to bring his car home to a heroic 5th. Needless to say, his contract was immediately extended to the end of the season. Whilst he never managed to recreate that dramatic afternoon in Melbourne, he did pick up an impressive 8th in France and was voted Rookie of the year by F1 Racing magazine.
A move to Jaguar ensued, which despite an exciting paint job and some impressive qualifying performance will mostly be remembered for a close run-in with a mad priest running down Hanger Straight in Silverstone, whom Webber came closest to hitting. A string of solid drives toward the end of ’03 saw Webber again claim Autocar’s “Driver of the Year”.
2004 was largely a year to forget for both Webber and indeed Jaguar. Marred by poor reliability, poor performance and internal politics, it was announced mid season that the Big Cat would withdraw from Formula 1 in 2005, leaving Mark to move to “the team he always had his heart set on” – Williams.
Things in Grove didn’t start well after former team mate Antônio Pizzonia, who had previously accused Mark and Jaguar of favoritism regarding development parts (sound familiar?), was linked with the second Williams seat. Mark responded bluntly, calling Pizzonia “a loser” and earning himself a smack on the wrist from his new team in the progress. His performances in 2005 were again solid if not spectacular, although he did take his first podium for the team, finishing 10th in the overall standings.
His second year with Williams however was not as strong, with a collection of crashes and poor reliability holding him back. Williams offered Mark a seat for 2007 at a lower salary than 2006, but despite expressing a desire to stay, he left Southern Oxfordshire to head back to a familiar factory, if not team, in the form of Red Bull Racing.
The 2007 Red Bull proved to be a mixture of unreliable and slow, and whilst performing comparably against then veteran David Coulthard in the sister car, his final 12th position was again disappointing. A string of solid point scoring drives in 2008 kept him in a seat through until 2009, where he was joined by young German protege, and Italian Grand Prix winner (in a Toro Rosso), Sebastian Vettel.
After initially trailing to Brawn GP, Red Bull soon closed the development gap, and Mark took several more podiums that year, and an impressive first win of his career in Germany. He finished the season 4th, by far his strongest result, behind the two Brawn cars, and also his team-mate.
2010 was another strong year for Mark, and arguably the season where he should have won the title. He took pole position 5 times, won 4 times (including the now infamous “not bad for a number 2 driver” in Silverstone) and finished on the podium a further 6 times. He may have also won in Turkey if it hadn’t been for a collision with Sebastian Vettel. He led the world championship for a large proportion of the season only to trail off in the last few races (partially due to a fractured shoulder), eventually losing out to his team-mate, who in turn took his first world title.
With his tail up, Mark struggled to compete toe to toe with his younger team-mate in 2011, finishing 3rd in the overall standings behind Jenson Button, and again his team-mate. His only win was on the last day of the season in Brazil, passing Vettel in the progress to take Red Bull’s 3rd 1-2 of the season.
In what would turn out to be his penultimate season, Mark Webber was one of the 7 different drivers to win in the first 7 races, taking the chequered flag in Monaco for the second time in his career. This and a win at Silverstone (again), his season was underwhelming and he managed to close out the season in 6th.
It’s clear why F1 fans like Mark Webber. In a world where so many drivers are PR machines who appear incapable of showing emotion, Mark manages to be human. He is a tough-racer with a heart. Someone who is not afraid to speak his mind, but also able to pull off being a sponsors dream at the same time. He may not always win, but he does always show true Aussie Grit.
We’ll miss you Mark.