The final race of the 2013 Formula 1 season is now a week in the past, and this season brings to a close a number of careers and eras. Although it’s conceivably possible we might see (and hear!) V8s in Formula 1 someday in the future, Mark Webber is gone with finality, having joined Porsche’s LMP1 factory team for its assault on Le Mans.
Mark Webber began his Formula 1 career in 2002 with Minardi, making his debut at his home Australian Grand Prix where he finished fifth – scoring points in his first F1 race. Webber went on to win multiple Rookie of the Year awards for his efforts with Minardi that year. For the next two season, he raced for Jaguar F1, scoring points on multiple occasions and building this F1 resume. Mark Webber’s last race with Jaguar in 2004 was also Jaguar’s last appearance on the F1 grid before being sold to Red Bull where it would be known as Red Bull Racing beginning 2005.
Mark Webber – The Williams Years
For the next two seasons, Webber raced for Williams, where many F1 followers expected him to notch his first victory. Williams Technical Director, Sam Michael went so far as to predict Mark Webber would ultimately win the F1 Driver’s Championship while at Williams. Unfortunately for both Webber and Williams, it didn’t work out that way. After a promising fifth place finish in his first Grand Prix with Williams in Australia and scoring points in five of his first six races with the team – including a podium in Monaco – the second half of the 2005 season was lack-luster for both as acrimony between Williams and its engine supplier increased throughout the season. Webber still managed a career high tenth place in the F1 Driver’s Championship while Williams finished fifth in the Constructor’s Championship.
A 2006 switch to Cosworth power did not improve the situation as Mark slipped to fourteenth in the Driver’s Championship and Williams only managed eighth in the Constructor’s Championship despite having two future stars as their drivers – Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg.
Mark Webber – The Red Bull Years
For 2007 it was announced that Webber would join David Coulthard at Red Bull Racing. That same year, Red Bull would be featuring their first Adrian Newey car, the RB3. This was also the team that was Jaguar in it’s prior incarnation. For 2007, there were lots of teething pains to get over, but Mark Webber and Red Bull Racing were clearly making progress. In Japan, Mark had a clear chance for victory: he was running second behind Lewis Hamilton but had faster pace. In the rain, behind the safety car, Hamilton suddenly checked up and Sebastian Vettel in a sister Torro Rosso ran into Webber from behind, taking both of them out of the race. Hmmm…
2008 was another building year for Red Bull. Mark had his best year since his 2005 season with Williams, scoring points in five of the first six races and finishing eleventh in the Driver’s Championship. For 2009, Mark Webber was joined by the Red Bull prodigy, Sebastian Vettel, and it was a breakout year for the team. Webber won his first F1 race in Germany, followed it up with another win in Brazil, and finished fourth in the Driver’s Championship. However, his teammate had an even better year with four victories and a runner-up position for the season – a position echoed by Red Bull in the Constructor’s Championship.
2010 would be Mark Webber’s best opportunity to win the F1 Driver’s Championship. He won in Spain and Monaco from pole and had another two victories at Silverstone and Hungary. He also scored poles in Malaysia, Turkey, and Belgium. In Turkey, while running 1-2, Webber and Vettel collided taking Vettel out of the race immediately and dropping Webber to third after a pit stop to replace a broken front wing. After his Monaco win, Webber was leading the Driver’s Championship, a lead he took into the Korean Grand Prix. In horrendous conditions that led to the race starting under a safety car and a necessitated a subsequent lengthy delay, Mark Webber spun after running wide on a turn while in second place. He ultimately hit the barriers and also took out fourth running Nico Rosberg as he careened back across the track. In the same race, Vettel’s engine failed while he was running in the lead. Ultimately Fernando Alonso won the race to take the lead in the Championship. By Mark Webber’s reaction, you could almost feel that this was a turning point in his run for the Championship. It was later learned that Webber was racing with a small shoulder fracture that was sustained in a mountain biking accident. Alonso took the lead into the final race of the season with Webber in second and Vettel close behind in third. As is well-known, Ferrari made a strategic mistake in covering Webber on pitstops; Alonso was stuck behind Vitaly Petrov to finish seventh, and Webber was behind Alonso in eighth. Vettel won the race and his first of four Driver’s Championships. Mark was third behind Alonso.
Red Bull Racing was now firmly Sebastian Vettel’s team. For the next three seasons, Mark Webber had some brilliant streaks and won a total of three more races, but clearly his chance in the Sun was gone – he was now part of the supporting cast. He continued to play a key role in Red Bull Racing’s run of four straight Constructor’s Championships on his way to third on the Driver’s Championship in 2011 and 2013, but the competition at the top of the driver’s contest was primarily between Alonso and Vettel.
Over their time together as teammates, there was clearly no love lost between Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber. The hostilities seemed to come to a head in this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix when Vettel ignored team orders and overtook Webber in the closing laps of a race that Webber had dominated. This action also seemed to turn many fans and public opinion against Vettel as he faced a chorus of boos at subsequent races.
Mark Webber closes out a Formula 1 career highlighted by class, gritty determination, and flashes of brilliance. He goes on to a second career at the top end of sports car racing – actually returning to the sport from which he came to F1.
Many more pics at Mark Webber Tribute