Often seen as the natural successor to Australian racing heroes
such as Jack Brabham and Alan Jones, Mark Webber certainly holds
the same no-nonsense attitude and sheer sporting enthusiasm. Often
labelled the unluckiest man in F1, he is also considered one of the
best drivers on today's grid, having been consistently quick since
his debut a decade ago. However, unlike his predecessors, he is yet
to secure a maiden world championship - despite driving for the
most dominant team of the past two seasons. This year will be
crucial to his future.
Born in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Webber idolised four times
world champion Alain Prost as a child. He took up karting in 1991
at the relatively late age of 14, later winning the regional
championship in 1993. This earned him rapid promotion to Australian
Formula Ford in 1994, but the teenager could finish only fourteenth
in his debut year. His second season in the series was much more
successful, winning three races. He earned promotion to European
Formula Ford the following year, finishing third in the overall
standings - and runner-up in the British series the same season.
His career continued to progress with a move to British F3 (in
which he won a single race), before moving to the FIA GT series in
1999 and again coming in third in the final standings. His
sportscar career was to be short-lived, as he combined a successful
drive with European Arrows in F3000 with a test role with the same
team in F1. He carried out the same role for Benetton in 2001, and
finished runner-up in the F3000 series as he bade goodbye to the
Webber graduated to a full time Formula 1 drive in 2002,
courtesy of fellow Australian Paul Stoddart, who had just assumed
control of the uncompetitive Minardi team. Remarkably, Webber was
able to benefit from an attritional season-opening Australian Grand
Prix to secure a wildly popular fifth place at his home grand prix.
This was to be his only appearance in the points, as the
cash-strapped team returned to the rear of the grid for the
remainder of the season. Nevertheless, Webber's impressive
performances were rewarded with promotion to Jaguar. At times the
young Aussie was genuinely competitive, qualifying as high as third
for the Brazilian Grand Prix. There were no podiums, but his
seventeen points were enough to see him finish in the top ten in
the end of year standings. He remained with Jaguar in 2004, but the
car lacked pace and the points tally fell to just seven.
Understandably, Webber looked elsewhere - and found a berth with
Williams in 2005.
Williams were a winning team, and the new partnership was
expected to make waves. There were some notable moments, Webber
scoring on ten occasions in 2005 and scoring a maiden podium at the
Monaco Grand Prix. However, it was to the surprise of many that he
was initially outpaced by underrated team-mate Nick Heidfeld.
Neverhteless, he scored a career best 36 points to again finish in
the top ten. However, the following year was to prove hugely
disappointing, Williams' switch to Cosworth power yielding eleven
retirements for the Australian. Just seven points were scored,
relations soured between Webber and the team's management and he
began to look elsewhere.
For 2007, he returned to Red Bull - the new owners of the former
Jaguar team. His brief was to compete with thirteen times race
winner David Coulthard, and he did so effectively, scoring the
team's only podium of the season at the European Grand Prix. The
following year he destroyed the Scotsman, scoring on nine occasions
to the retiring Coulthard's two, and finishing eleventh in the
title standings despite achieving no further podiums. The Briton
retired at the end of the season.
The real turning point was 2009, a year in which the regulations
changed considerably - and Red Bull's design guru Adrian Newey
hauled the team into contention. However, Webber had been paired
with sensational young German Sebastian Vettel, and it was the
German who scored the team's first win at that year's Chinese Grand
Prix. Vettel went on to take the title challenge to the penultimate
round, but Webber took made a breakthrough: he took an emotional
first win in Germany, and followed it up with another in Brazil. It
gave him the confidence to compete strongly in 2010, leading the
title battle for much of the season and scoring four fantastic
wins. He would lose out to team-mate Vettel in the final round
courtesy of a strategic blunder on the pitwall.
Last season was less happy for the Australian. Buoyed by his
title success, Sebastian Vettel proved utterly unstoppable. Webber
was simply unable to compete with his team-mate, and the German
disappeared into the distance early into the season. Still, Webber
continued to put in solid performances throughout the season and
was rewarded with victory at the final round in Brazil, equalling
his career best third in the final standings and helping Red Bull
to a second consecutive constructors' title.
For 2012, Webber simply has to strike back. He is aware that
elements of the team support Vettel in the inter-team rivalry, but
he is also aware that when he is on form he can compete with the
double world champion, particularly if he is given the equal
equipment to do so. Given the fact that he is on a rolling contract
which runs only to the end of the season, the Australian (who turns
thirty five this year) must make use of the opportunity he has
before it is too late.
Previously known as the co-founder of F1Lite (a Twitter-only
service), Alex Norton joined PortalF1 as the English language
editor in January 2012.
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