Brought to you by TheJudge13 chronicler BlackJack’sBriefs
Such a list is not easy to compile, and it is even harder to be objective.
The way I reduced 830 F1 drivers to 20 is detailed in Part I. I wanted twenty top drivers (top No.2’s who might have been a team leader.) who had proved their ability to win – not drivers who showed talent but were unable to realise their potential, including drivers whose career was brought to an untimely end, for whatever reason.
Born in Queanbeyan, NSW, in 1976, Mark Webber arrived on British shores in late 1995 following four years in karts and Formula Ford. After placing 3rd in the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in a Van Diemen, he was offered a ‘works’ drive for 1996, taking 2nd in the British FF Championship, before moving to F3 for 1997.
In his fourth race he led from flag to flag and, despite financial problems, finished the year in 4th… and was offered a drive with Mercedes-AMG for 1998/99 FIA GT Championship, alongside Bernd Schneider, where he won five of the ten races to place 2nd overall in 1998. But in 1999 his car flipped twice in practice on the Mulsanne Straight, as did a teammate during the race, and Mercedes-AMG withdrew from the rest of the season, leaving Webber to scout around for another try at single-seaters…
Eddie Jordan introduced Webber to Paul Stoddart who signed him for a F3000 drive, which also got him a test- driver role with Arrows F1. Mark finished 3rd in F3000 and was offered a test-drive role at Benetton for 2001. Webber also accepted ‘Bunco’ Briatore as his manager (which I presume was a ‘condition’…), who financed a second year in F3000, where Webber finished 2nd overall.
Briatore, knowing which side his bread was buttered, and playing chess with people’s lives, grabbed Alonso from Minardi as his test-driver at Benetton and moved Webber back to Stoddart, who had just bought Minardi. Despite an uncompetitive and unreliable car Mark was lucky to finish fifth in his first race and had to be satisfied with ‘Rookie of the Year’, with F1 Racing, and Autosport, and in the ‘Bernie Awards’… whatever they were…
Having usually out-performed his teammates, Mark moved to Jaguar where he continued to out-perform, but again, reliability, and several crashes, gained him only 10th in the Championship, with seven 6th / 7th places to show for his season, despite several fast race-laps, and high grid positions – and the occasional slow start… But, meanwhile, Mark’s rise to the top was being over-shadowed by some of his peers – Ralf Schumacher, Trulli, de la Rosa, Heidfeld, Button, Montoyer, Raikkonen, Alonso and Massa who all arrived in F1 between 1997-2002, all equally aiming for success: and some achieved it… Webber made do with the Autocar ‘Driver of the Year Award’…
In the second race of 2004 Mark split the Ferraris and astonished everyone by putting his Jaguar on the front row of the grid, but then nearly stalled as the lights went to green, and found himself in 10th at turn-1… and this was his best performance of the year, in the generally out-classed Jaguar. At the end of the year Jaguar was sold to Red Bull… and Webber, having finished behind Button, Alonso, Montoyer, Trulli, Raikonnen, Ralf, Coulthard, Fisichella and Massa in the Championship, moved on…
2005 – another year, another team – it seemed Williams was Mark’s best chance yet, and expectations were high, Stoddart asserted Mark would win his first race this year… and Sam Michael declared Mark would win his first Championship at Williams… In the previous five years Williams had finished 3rd, 3rd, 2nd, 2nd & 4th and, as we now know, those glory days were over – for a while, some of us still hope…
Webber and Heidfeld were able to keep the cars near the front, scoring four podiums between them, in the first half of the season but, after returning from the nonsensical non-event at Indianapolis, Williams fell steadily rearwards, finishing 5th in the Constructors Championship, while Mark collected the ‘Lorenzo Bandini Trophy’ – ever the bridesmaid…
Webber declined an offer from Sauber and remained with Williams for 2006… Heidfeld however accepted the offer to join Jacques Villeneuve, but the latter was dropped by Sauber, mid-season, and replaced by test-driver, Robert Kubica (another rising star), who himself was replaced by a newcomer from German F3: Sebastien Vettel… Year by year, time seemed to be running out for Webber… It has always seemed that a driver has to stake his claim to the crown within about three years… or he might not get the best drives, and thus not have the best chance to assert his potential superiority. Nico Hulkenberg, for example, has faced a similar predicament…
For example, having lost his test-driver role at Benetton to Alonso at the end of 2001, Alonso had since become double World Champion in 2005/06 while Webber had finished 10th & 14th in the same years…
Webber also had to contend with his new teammate, Nico Rosberg who, in his first GP, set fastest lap (which record he continues to hold as ‘youngest fastest lapper’), and out-qualified Webber 6:12. A Championship contender with four or five seasons experience ought not to be beaten so often by a rookie teammate.
So Webber was obliged to move again and joined Coulthard at Red Bull, ‘and the rest, as they say, is history,’ (as they say…) but… as I hate this cliche, I will ignore it – “I’ve started, so I’ll finish…”
There had been talk of Webber joining Renault, to replace Alonso (who had moved to McLaren, to be friends with Lewis – yet another rising star…), which might have been better, but it seems again that ‘Baker’ Briatore had too many fingers, and not enough pies… For the record Williams retained Nico Rosberg, who finished the year 9th, while Webber’s Red Bull finished 12th. Oh dear, it just wasn’t working…
Meanwhile, up at the sharp end, Fernando cried wolf, and Lewis looked as bemused as a bush-baby (with those stunning, ‘What, me Guv…?’, eyes), leaving Kimi to pull the rug out from under their Bridgestone’s, and silently slip the Championship away from them both. Interestingly, quite apart from the points, Kimi scored the most wins, and fastest laps; and Lewis had the most poles; and Fernando… er… came third…
Throughout 2007 Webber tended to out-perform the much more experienced Coulthard, which perhaps dismayed the latter almost as much as the former would later be disappointed with his next teammate… until, at the wet Fuji, as Webber was running second to Hamilton, and in with a chance of his first win, Lewis suddenly slowed and Mark was rammed from behind, during a safety-car period, by the Toro Rosso of… er… um… Herr Vettel – both retiring.
Webber declared: “Well it’s kids, isn’t it. Kids with not enough experience, doing a good job then they fuck it all up,” Webber was particularly critical of Hamilton’s driving that led to the accident, describing his antics as ‘shit’. Webber allegedly later claimed the British press attacked him for criticising their ‘golden boy’ Hamilton.
It was another disappointing season for a driver who nevertheless continued to show considerable promise.
Webber signed on, for more of the same, with Red Bull, while Ralf Schumacher retired after ten years, Alonso swapped with Kovalainen, Fisichella moved to the new Force India, and was replaced by another of Briatore’s Boys, Nelson Piquet Jr., and SebastiEn Bourdais, after winning four consecutive ChampCar Championships, joined SebastiAn Vettel at Toro Rosso.
Q: Was Bourdais one of Marko’s ‘Young Drivers’…? Answers to ‘Marko Watch, c/o ‘TheJudge13’…
While Adrian Newey was still trying to get the Red Bulls together Webber and Coulthard kept the cars in the upper mid-positions, in qualifying and the races, but the team finally placed seventh in the Constructors Championship… behind Toro Rosso – by dint of the latter’s win at Monza… The record books were being reopened: Vettel was now the youngest GP winner, taking an Italian-based car to the first non-Ferrari GP win since 1957.
After seven seasons in F1 Mark was still showing he could run with the best (at least some of the time, once he got off the grid…) but his Championship results were: 16th, 10th, 13th, 10th, 14th, 12th, & 11th… At 32, time was now running out.
At this stage of their career many also-rans in F1 face slipping slowly down the grid, in steadily slower cars – or retirement. Of Webber’s peers, mentioned above, Raikkonen and Alonso had been crowned, and Button was about to be, Massa was making stronger claims to a title, Ralf Schumacher, Montoyer, and de la Rosa were long gone, and Heidfeld and Trulli were still persevering, In the meantime, since 2002, because nothing stands still, Webber & Co. had been joined by new hopefuls: Rosberg, Kubica, Sutil, Kovalainen, Vettel and Hamilton… and waiting in the wings were Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo, Perez, di Resta, Maldonado, Bottas – and others…
Perhaps now, more than ever in the history of F1, with so many drivers hoping for a chance, and no ‘junior’ seats available, newcomers must stake their claim as pretender to the throne within three years… Three failures to strike, and you’re out – if not sooner, for some.
In 2009 Button & Brawn took six wins in the first seven races which, with a couple more podiums, and Barrichello’s support, gave them the Championships… but… in China Red Bull had finally come good and took their first ever 1-2… though with Webber behind new teammate Vettel… In theory Webber now had his best chance ever of the crown, but, with Vettel’s presence, it was also his most frustrating opportunity.
At the Nurburgring Webber took his first pole and, despite having to do a drive-through penalty, went on to his first GP victory, ten seconds ahead of Vettel, Vettel took 4 poles to Webber’s 1, 4 wins to Webber’s 2, and each had 3 fastest laps. Vettel scored three 1-2 victories, to Webber’s one, and they finished 2nd and 4th overall, split by Barrichello – Webber’s best season yet… but he had been over-shadowed by the ‘new boy’.
In Hungary, ‘Crashgate’ reared it’s very ugly head. Briatore (who ran out of pies and stuck his finger in the wrong orifice – in sacking Piquet Jr – like The Wolf of Wall Street…) was banned from all FIA activities, and Mosley declared no driver managed by him would be granted a Super-Licence.
2010 . . .
The last four years of Mark Webber’s F1 career are too well known to need developing here. In 2010 he had an even better chance to take the laurels. With five poles, four wins, four 2nd places, two 3rd. (and three fastest laps) he led Vettel in the championship chase (by as much as 28pts.) from Monaco until Brazil (with a brief blip after Valencia) but, in Korea, Webber crashed out of a pretty safe 2nd place which rather destroyed all probability of him taking the Championship.
According to Webber-fan, Jack Brabham, the mistake at Yeongam, “… has cost Webber his only chance of lifting the title.” adding, “It would mean a lot to me and it would mean a lot to Australia, but . . . if he doesn’t do it this year, I don’t think he ever will.”
Mark went to Abu Dhabi with 238 pts. Fernando had 246, and Sebastian, 231. With Lewis’ slender chance this was the first time a final GP had four drivers vying for the crown.
But Webber qualified 5th, behind all three, and also Button. Alonso just had to stay ahead of Webber, and not be too far behind Vettel but, perhaps because of stopping for tyres too early, and then getting bogged down in the pack, both Webber and Alonso (who nevertheless headed Webber) were too far back to do anything about Vettel – who took his first Championship… But even if Vettel had not finished Webber would still have lost out to Alonso. As consolation, once more, Mark was awarded the Hawthorn Memorial Trophy.
From then on the writing was writ large: Red Bull either had to provide total equality for both drivers (which is virtually impossible, human nature being what it is) or to (if only inadvertently) favour one over the other. In the circumstances what team-manager/owner could have favoured Mark over Seb…? As I said above: Webber now had his best chance ever of the crown, but, with Vettel’s presence, it was also his most frustrating opportunity… and frustration was rarely absent… while Vettel seemed hard pressed to slow himself down to oblige his more experienced teammate.
2011 . . .
From 2011 to the present Webber played second fiddle to a brilliant driver. I ‘blame’ Villeneuve… If Jacques hadn’t mucked up his Sauber drive, gifting his seat to Kubica, then Kubica wouldn’t have had to be replaced by Vettel, who might not have arrived at Toro Rosso for another year, or two, and wouldn’t have won at Monza, and in 2009-2010 Mark Webber would have been Red Bull’s No.1 – and taken the Crown… 🙂
For want of a nail, a kingdom was lost…
In his final three years Webber won only 3 more races, with 7 poles, 13 fastest laps, and 22 podiums, and finished 3rd in the Championship two more times. It was a great career that came so near, yet so far. Mark recently revealed he was offered a Ferrari drive for 2013-14… It would not have given him the Championship but might have made his last year or two in F1 a tad happier. I have also heard it rumoured (but, I hasten to add, not confirmed) that Webber turned down an opportunity to partner Alonso at Benetton for 2005…
In 2014 Mark Webber joins the Porsche LMP1 Sportscars Team in the FIA World Endurance Championship, with the Porsche 919 Hybrid.
Outside motor-racing Webber is a keen athlete in many areas and won the F1 ProAm tennis tournament in 2002, 2004 and 2005, losing out to Montoyer in 2003, and also instigated the gruelling, 6-day, Mark Webber Pure Tasmania Challenge.
[NB: I always try to find quotes on the internet from people who knew the drivers for this series but for Webber I have failed to find anything other than the Brabham one above. I also became aware that although Webber is renowned for his own quotes most of them seem to be either whingeing or insulting (see also, above.). If anybody has any others, i.e. ‘nice’ ones from Webber, or quotes about him, please add them in the comments section, to make this report more complete.]
to be continued, next week…