On Thursday came the announcement that the reigning WEC champion Mark Webber will retire from racing at the end of the season to focus on being a “Porsche special representative” (basically an ambassador).
When I heard this news it genuinely saddened me, I’ve been a fan of Mark’s ever since he rose to prominence in F1 back in 2009. His refreshingly honest interviews, relentless determination and Aussie charm make him a real personality both in and out of the car.
So I’m going to give you a rundown of his career and tell you why I believe that he was a very unique driver and why he will be missed in the car.
Mark Webber was born into a working-class Australian family just outside of Canberra. He always had a keen eye for sport but motorsport was his passion. Despite financial troubles he rose through the lower formulae to get his debut in the promised land in 2002, Formula 1, proof that the cream always does rise to the top.
His debut came courtesy of Minardi, the perennial back-of-the-grid team. So when he lined up eighteenth on the grid for his debut and home race at Albert Park nobody bat an eye. But when he finished in fifth people took notice. That was his best finish of the season and arguably got him the move to Jaguar for 2003.
Mark Webber (right) and Paul Stoddart celebrate the Minardi driver’s 5th place on the podium. Photo Credit: abc.net.au
2003-06 were the intermittent years, nearly getting pole in Brazil, a podium in Monaco were highlights in what must’ve been slightly frustrating times for Webber. He was clearly talented, everybody could see that but he was a bit like what Hulkenberg is now, lauding around the midfield going from team to team and just lacking that financial and political backing to get him into a top seat.
Spreading his wings
Moving to Red Bull from Williams for 2007 was seen as just another sideways move, RBR were only a midfield team at the time and remained that way until their first big opportunity to close the deficit in 2009 when the regulations changed.
With Adrian Newey financed by one of the biggest brands in the world the result was somewhat inevitable.
Not bad for a number two driver
2009 came and he a new teammate for Mark arrived with it, 21-year-old Sebastian Vettel (you may have heard of him). Their relationship was complicated from the start, in 2007 in appalling conditions at Fuji Webber was taken out by Vettel under the safety car when the pair were running 2-3. Webber wasn’t happy to say the least and went on live TV and called said “Kids isn’t it… kids with not enough experience – you do a good job and then they f*** it all up.” He’s never been one to mince his words and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
More on this rivalry later.
By the time that Germany had rolled around Vettel had already won twice that season in China and Britain so for the first time in his career Webber was in a car that could win. When he put himself on pole at the Nurburgring, the first of his career, the signs were promising. And despite the miserable conditions and a drive-through penalty he did it, he superbly won.
This was the moment that made me a fan of Mark Webber, I’ve heard and seen so many celebrations in motorsport but his ecstatic radio message and podium antics are still the best I’ve ever witnessed. After the longest wait in F1 history (130 races) he had finally done it, he was a Grand Prix winner.
Mark Webber soaking up the champagne after his first GP win. Photo Credit: AUSmotive.com
The problem was that the Brawn team had such an advantage at the start of the season that it was very difficult to catch up to them and it proved too much for both of the Red Bull drivers.
2010 was different though…
The car was one of the best from the start so the opportunity for the championship was there to be seized. After winning in Spain and Monaco Webber lead the standings for the first time in his career after six rounds and rarely gave up that position throughout the season but he went into the last race at Abu Dhabi eight points behind leader Fernando Alonso.
What happened there has gone down in infamy.
The top two in the championship were stuck behind a stubborn Vitaly Petrov for what seemed like an age and Vettel swooped in to take the championship at the last round.
Webber finished in 8th which wasn’t good enough to claim top spot in the standings when it mattered the most. Photo credit: F1 Fanatic
If he hadn’t spun off in Korea, slammed into the back of Kovalainen’s Lotus in Valencia or got ran into by Vettel in Turkey it could’ve been a very different story in 2010.
What could’ve been…
Personally, I don’t believe he would’ve gone onto win another three championships in a row if he won one in 2010. Sport is never that simple.
Losing the 2010 title in Abu Dhabi was crushing for Mark and I don’t think that he ever truly recovered from this. From 2011 to 2013 Webber couldn’t compete with his younger teammate when it mattered. Yes, he drove well and achieved podiums, poles and wins but the numbers speak for themselves. 3 wins for Webber between 2011 and 2013 compared to his Vettel’s staggering total of 29 highlights the difference in class over those years.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Webber’s ability, he had that in abundance, that overtake going into Eau Rouge is one of the bravest I’ve ever seen (look it up if you haven’t seen it, it’s incredible). It’s just that nobody else stood a chance (apart from the exception of Alonso in his 2012 Ferrari) of beating the German.
The old dog learns some new tricks
After 12 seasons and at 37-years-of-age it was time to leave F1 for pastures new. That cooldown lap in Brazil must’ve made health and safety personnel at the FIA go crazy, classic Mark.
But why did he leave? He was hardly having to use a Zimmer-frame after all, he finished third in the drivers’ standings that year. The answer is simple; he fell out of love with the sport. Webber is part of a generation of drivers that went through the lower categories and most of their years in F1 when you could push the car to 100%, 100% of the time. But in 2011 that all changed with the introduction of Pirelli tyres that fell off the cliff when drivers pushed too hard. That coupled with the Multi-21 incident in Malaysia (when Vettel defied team orders and overtook Webber for the win) I believe was the final straws for his time in F1.
He very much took the leave the sport on your own terms, don’t let it leave you approach.
When the opportunity to race in WEC came from the exciting new Porsche team I honestly believe that his decision was easy. A series where he could push his limits and become a world champion. When he did so in 2015 he must have felt that it was fully justified and rightfully so. Fingers crossed that when Bahrain rolls around in November he’ll be at the top with Bernhard and Hartley and go out on a high.
He’s a bit greyer around the edges but he’s still the Aussie we all know and will continue love. Good luck in all your future ventures Mark.