F1 Biography: Farewell to Mark Webber

This weekend’s season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix also saw the end of Mark Webber’s career as a driver in Formula One. The gritty Australian would take nine wins, thirteen pole positions and forty-two podiums across 215 GP starts between 2002 and 2013, finishing 3rd in the World Drivers Championship standings on three separate occasions. His twelve seasons at the highest level of the sport would make him a favorite among many fans, as the Aussie was never one to back down from a straight fight on the circuit nor was he one to mince words out of the cockpit.

Born in New South Wales in 1976, Mark Alan Webber’s road to Formula One began in his home country of Australia with motorcycles and karting before moving up to Formula Fords in 1994. Mark relocated to Europe in 1996 where he would move up the ladder through Formula Fords, British F3 and into F3000. In 1998, Webber was offered a drive with the AMG Mercedes team in the FIA GT Championship and a strong season saw him finish 3rd in the final standings alongside co-driver Bernd Schneider. However, during the lead up to the ’99 24 Hours of Le Mans, two successive flips in the aerodynamically flawed CLR while travelling at high speed down the circuit’s long Mulsanne straight brought about a quick end to both an uninjured Webber and the team’s seasons.

The year 2000 saw a return to open wheel with fellow Australian Paul Stoddart’s Eurobet Arrows F3000 team. That year also afforded Mark his first test in a F1 car with Arrows at Barcelona. He was signed as the team’s test driver, though he never drove the car.

For 2001, Webber engaged Benetton boss Flavio Briatore as his manager, helping to secure him another year’s funding in F3000 with the Super Nova Team, as well as a place as the Benetton test driver. The following year (2002), Mark would step up to a full time race seat.

Webber Mark Monaco win 2012 C600

Back with Stoddart, now running the generally outpaced Minardi squad, Webber would make his F1 debut on home soil at the 2002 season opener in the Australian Grand Prix. A massive accident on the first lap saw eight cars fall out of the race, helping Mark to move considerably farther up through the field before finally taking 5th place and finishing in the points in his very first GP.

Though these would be the only points the team would score all season, they would help Minardi finish 9th in the Constructor’s Championship. Mark was never out-qualified by teammates Alex Yoong or his mid-season replacement Anthony Davidson that year.

Jaguar came calling for 2003 and Webber would finish in the points on seven occasions, finishing his second season in 10th place in the Driver’s standings. By the end of year number two, the Australian had still never been out-qualified by a teammate!

A second season with a less reliable Jaguar would result in just four points paying finishes and 13th at year’s end, followed by a move to Williams for the next two seasons. Though he would finish in 3rd and take his first podium in Monaco during the 2005 season, the two years at Williams would only result in 10th and 14th place finishes respectively.

2007 would see the fourth and final team switch of Webber’s career and one that would see many highlights and a bit of inner squad controversy over the next seven seasons. Now, as team boss for the Renault F1 team, manager Flavio Briatore reportedly offered the Red Bull team the use of Renault engines if they would sign the Australian. Mark’s first two seasons with the team would bring a career equaling best finish of 3rd in the 2007 European GP and season-ending positions of 12th in ’07 and 11th in ’08.

During the off-season before the 2009 season, Mark suffered a badly broken leg when a car struck his bicycle during his own cycling charity event in Tasmania. When he took part in testing in February, he still had steel rods in legs. Still, the season would be the best showing yet for both Webber and the team, who was taking on Sebastian Vettel as Mark’s new teammate.

Webber desert C600

Following four podiums, including two 2nd place finishes, in the first eight rounds of the season, Webber took his first career pole position at the Nurburgring. He went on to dominate the German Grand Prix and claim his first F1 victory, some seven and a half seasons after entering the sport. Though he would move up to 2nd at one point in the Championship standings and claim a second win in Brazil, Mark would eventually finish the season in 4th, two places behind his new teammate. Still, the finishing position was by far the best of his career.

Mark would go one better in 2010, finishing the year in 3rd position on the strength of four wins, including the renowned Monaco Grand Prix. He was, in fact, leading the championship as late as the Korean round, but would eventually enter the final race in 3rd, where he would finish, two places behind Vettel, who had become the series’ youngest ever World Drivers Champion.

That season’s European Grand Prix saw Mark involved in a horrifying accident in which he crashed into the back of Heikki Kovalainen’s Lotus, sending the Red Bull skyward, where it hit an advertising board spanning the track before coming back down to earth and crashing hard into the barriers. The strength of the modern F1 car was proven that day as Webber emerged sore but relatively unhurt from the remains of his car.

The 2010 Turkish Grand also saw an incident that began a rift between Red Bull and Webber that would seemingly rear its head on occasion over the coming seasons. While Vettel was attempting to pass his teammate for the lead on the 40th lap, the two Red Bulls collided, causing them both to spin out. Vettel was out on the spot and Webber had to pit for a new nose, putting him out of contention for the win.

Though many outsiders put the blame squarely on the young German, the team pointed the finger at his more experienced teammate. At this point, it became very clear that Red Bull saw Vettel as their Number One and Webber as their Number Two, however much the team tried to argue to the contrary.

Three races later, after Mark took the victory in the British Grand Prix, a race in which the team once again seemed to favor Vettel by giving him a newly developed nose before qualifying, Webber would remark over the team radio, “Not bad for a number two driver.”

Webber Mark Spanish GP C600

While Vettel would take his second title in succession in 2011, Webber would not win a single race until the final round of the year in Brazil. But ten podium finishes would help him to another 3rd place finish in the Driver’s standings. Though he would take two wins in 2012, Mark would only come 6th in 2012. That season’s British Grand Prix would prove to be Webber’s final win in Formula One, as the Aussie would fail to make the top step of the podium in 2013, though he would still manage 3rd in the final season standings.

There are some who may say that Webber had the bad luck of being in the Red Bull team at the same time as Sebastian Vettel, who is now coming off of his fourth straight championship and has scored thirty-eight wins to Mark’s nine wit the squad. There are many who may say that, for the five seasons that the pair were teammates, Webber was playing second fiddle and may have been given second best by the team in favor of their golden boy. But when it comes down to it, there probably aren’t many that will not be missing having Mark Webber on the grid when the 2014 Formula One Season kicks off in four months time. As Aussie Grit heads off into the sunset to drive for the factory Porsche sporstcar team, we here at F1B will indeed miss the fiery, fast Australian.

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