Throughout his Formula 1 career, Mark Webber has made a name for himself as a tough-talking, fearless competitor.
In his debut race at the Australian Grand Prix in 2002, he became the first Minardi driver to score points since Mark Gené in 1999. This was despite qualifying 18th and struggling with a broken differential.
Indeed, at nearly every team that Webber has been at, he has matched or beaten his team mate. At Jaguar, he saw off a succession of younger and at the time highly-rated teammates, including Antonio Pizzonia and Justin Wilson.
His move to Williams in 2005 saw four points scoring finishes in his first five races. Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg proved tough opponents but Webber more than held his own. We can see from Rosberg’s superb pole positions and wins in this year’s Formula 1 season just how fast he is; also managing to out-qualify supremely fast teammate Lewis Hamilton in three of eight races this year.
Upon his move to Red Bull in 2007, Webber was at first partnered with veteran 13-time race winner David Coulthard. Again, he showed that he was more than capable of competing with top drivers, Webber and Coulthard ended their two years together relatively equal; they both had one podium finish to their name and it was 1-1 in terms of total end of season points.
Ultimately, Webber has faced a far tougher test with Sebastian Vettel, his current teammate. Despite a brilliant season performance in 2010 where Webber lost out on the World Championship at the final race of the season, Vettel has generally proven too much for Webber.
However, Webber has still managed many pole positions and race wins; he has also had to contend with the increasing favouritism shown towards Vettel. In 2010, Webber’s impending car upgrades were given to Vettel in an emergency after the German’s wing failure.
Despite this and Vettel’s pole position, Webber won the race and proclaimed, ‘not bad for a number two driver,’ as he crossed the line.
Indeed, Webber’s habit of plain speaking has both helped and hindered his career. In a positive way, it has helped him to be seen as a level-headed and approachable character around the paddock. He has frequently been seen as a voice of wisdom and responsibility among the drivers.
However, many would also argue that the antagonism between Vettel and Webber that really came to a head after the pair’s collision in Istanbul in 2010, has been exacerbated by Webber’s uncompromising actions.
At the end of the 2012 season in Interlagos, Webber was asked to support Vettel in order to defend against Fernando Alonso; he refused to budge.
That said, the negative situation amongst the driving partnership at Red Bull isn’t all Webber’s fault. Sebastian Vettel is an incredibly ambitious character. Just with Prost, Senna, Schumacher and many others; champions hate losing and will do anything to win.
This was seen when Vettel ignored team orders in Malaysia by refusing to stay behind his teammate and stealing first place from Webber. He subsequently exacerbated the feud by effectively retracting his apology to Webber a few days later.
Despite Webber’s flaws, one of the most impressive things about him is the way that he will fight rigorously for his position both within teams and in races. He knows his ability but he is modest enough not to trumpet it around.
He has also put 100% effort into his career. Perhaps the best example of this was when he broke his leg whilst cycling in November 2008 and yet still managed to be fit for the first race of the 2009 season.
He raced until March 2013 with a steel rod in his leg. In the final four races of the 2010 season, he raced with a broken shoulder and this undoubtedly contributed to his dip in form and loss of the championship to Vettel.
These incidents show the willingness of someone like Mark Webber to fight against the odds and race through the pain barrier.
From 2014, Mark Webber will be racing in Porsche’s new sportscar programme and will compete in the Le Mans 24 Hours race. Wherever his career takes him beyond that, Formula 1 will most certainly miss one of its most colourful characters.
His speed and overall driving talent have been clear to see at every team he has raced at. No teammate, including Vettel, has ever had an easy ride with him in the car next door.
Perhaps the saddest thing is that drivers less talented than him have won a World Championship, if anyone ever deserved it, it was Mark Webber.
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