Mark Webber’s path to success in Formula One was not an easy one.
His early years saw some impressive giant-killing feats and occasional qualifying heroics – and an awful lot of treading water in cars that were uncompetitive, unreliable, or both.
That remained the case even after his 2007 move to Red Bull. But the team hit the big time in 2009 and Webber’s long-overdue first win finally arrived.
That glorious day at the Nurburgring was unquestionably one of the high points of Webber’s 215-race F1 career. As he prepares to move his racing career to the World Endurance Championship, here are ten of his best moments as a grand prix driver.
2002 Australian Grand Prix
Webber made his Grand Prix debut for Minardi on home turf in the 2002 season opener at Albert Park. Expectations were low: the Italian minnows had mustered only a solitary point (for sixth place) in their previous six campaigns. But what followed that weekend was to be truly extraordinary.
A huge first-lap pile up decimated the field and Webber found himself in a remarkable fifth place at the mid-point of the race, with no apparent threats to his position from behind. The pressure on the rookie driver to cling to a precious points finish for the tiny team was huge.
But a series of misfortunes threatened to spoil the party for Webber and the Australian fans. A pit stop delay cost him 25 seconds and then a broken differential and gearbox troubles left him vulnerable.
The closing laps were David versus Goliath stuff as Mika Salo, driving for Toyota’s new and hugely expensive Formula One team, arrived on Webber’s tail. Salo was clearly the quicker of the two, but spun in his attempts to pass, leaving Webber unchallenged in fifth and sending the local fans into delirium.
Webber’s efforts single-handedly earned Minardi ninth in the constructors’ championship that year. They failed to add to their points haul, but Toyota and Arrows could only equal them with a pair of sixth place finishes, leaving Minardi on top.
But for Webber the achievement became something of a monkey on his back. It took him over three years to better the result, and a whole decade before he managed a higher finish in his home grand prix.
2003 Hungarian Grand Prix
Though Webber did not score again for Minardi, his performances were enough to earn him a move up the grid to Jaguar the following season, and it was with the British outfit that his talents truly came to the fore.
The pick of Webber’s Jaguar outings came at the Hungaroring in 2003. He qualified third – equalling his best grid position to date – and made good use of starting on the clean side of the track to take second at the start.
The Hungaroring had been redesigned that year in a bid to improve overtaking opportunities, but the difficulty the likes of Kimi Raikkonen had trying to pass Webber indicated the efforts had been in vain.
Only Ralf Schumacher managed to break the Jaguar driver’s defences, and a few others slipped past through the refuelling pit stops.
But Webber still retained a sixth place at the chequered flag which was better than the R4 chassis warranted – and not the first time he had achieved it, either.
2006 Monaco Grand Prix
After two years with Jaguar, it was clear that Webber was ready for a move to a top team. His 2005 move to Williams seemed a match made in heaven – the pairing of this no-nonsense team with a gritty Australian charger had worked brilliantly in their Alan Jones days.
Webber had turned down an offer from Renault to partner Fernando Alonso and it soon became clear how big a mistake this had been. Renault won the constructors’ championships in 2005 and 2006 while Alonso did the business in the drivers’ championship. Williams were slipping into a long decline: they lost their BMW engine supply at the end of 2005 and Webber was seldom even in contention for podiums.
A rare highlight was the 2006 Monaco Grand Prix. Webber sensationally qualified on the front row – aided by Michael Schumacher’s infamous escapade at Rascasse – and spent much of the race in a battle for the lead with Alonso and Raikkonen until his Cosworth engine expired.
At the end of the season, the Williams-Webber partnership that had promised so much came to an end. Webber made a return of sorts to Jaguar – the Milton Keynes-based team having since been bought by Red Bull. It was a momentous decision for Webber’s career and unlike the Renault snub it proved to be the correct one.
2007 European Grand Prix
Given their current dominance of Grand Prix racing, it is easy to forget that when Webber joined Red Bull in 2007, the team was an unremarkable midfield squad which had managed just three podiums in its first four seasons.
Webber’s first of many visits to the rostrum for the Austrian team, at the 2007 European Grand Prix, was one of only three points finishes he managed all season.
Sixth on the grid matched his best effort in qualifying so far that year, and Webber kept his footing during an early race downpour which caught out several of his rivals. Following another late shower he resisted pressure from Alexander Wurz to finish a fine third.
It was his second visit to an F1 podium. But his return to the Nurburgring two years later would bring even better things.
2007 Japanese Grand Prix
Running second behind the Safety Car, the Red Bull driver was aware that the only man standing between him and a long awaited maiden Grand Prix victory, Lewis Hamilton, was closing on the world championship crown and would be unlikely to risk that if he came under attack.
Unfortunately, we’ll never know how that battle may have turned out. On lap 46 of 67, a young German rookie driving for Toro Rosso – Sebastian Vettel, of course – drove into the back of Webber’s RB3, destroying the rear of the car and with it any hopes of a famous win.
“It’s kids isn’t it?” Webber famously lamented on live television minutes later, “they’re doing a good job then they fuck it all up”. Although this was initially interpreted as a comment about Vettel, Webber recently indicated Hamilton was at least as much a focus of his fury.
2009 German Grand Prix
It took almost two years before Webber was presented with another opportunity to win. In ther meantime, Red Bull had been transformed from run-of-the-mill midfielders to the class of the field, and for the first time Webber had a car with which he could challenge for wins.
Unfortunately for Webber, his fellow custodian of Adrian Newey’s rocketships was the soon-to-be quadruple world champion, Vettel. He had given Red Bull their first victory just three races into the season and was quickly developing into their star driver.
But the 2009 German Grand Prix at the Nurburgring was to be Webber’s day. Starting from pole position for the first time, he overcame a drive through penalty for a first lap misdemeanour to claim a comfortable win in his 130th race start.
2010 Spanish Grand Prix
The 2010 season was clearly Webber’s best. His fortunes changed for the better: while Vettel was vexed by a defective chassis Webber made hay and built the foundations of a serious championship challenge early in the year.
His season – and probably his entire F1 career – peaked with back-to-back, lights-to-flag wins in Spain and Monaco. At the Circuit de Catalunya, Webber crossed the line 24 seconds clear of his nearest challenger to truly stamp his authority on the 2010 season.
2010 Monaco Grand Prix
One week later at the Monaco Grand Prix, Webber was again peerless. He comfortably out-qualified Vettel to take pole position, and survived a tumultuous, Safety Car-disrupted race to top the podium once again.
The win also elevated Webber to the top of the point tables for the first time in his career, and he remained in the running for the title until the final round.
Perhaps as memorable as the race itself were the images of Red Bull’s celebrations atop their lavish floating motorhome. But two weeks later Red Bull’s delerium was replaced by animosity when the pair collided on-track, forcing the team to confront the peculiar challenges of having two drivers competing for the same championship.
2011 Chinese Grand Prix
The transformation of F1 racing brought about by the introduction of DRS and Pirelli tyres for the 2011 season had a disastrous effect on Webber’s performances. Having been quite evenly matched with Vettel in their first two years together at Red Bull, between 2011 and 2013 Webber managed a trio of victories to his team mate’s 29.
But on his day the Australian remained capable of memorable performances, as he ably demonstrated at Shanghai in 2011.
Newey’s refusal to compromise Red Bull’s peerless aerodynamics with too many compromises to a Kinetic Energy Recovery System has caused his drivers many headaches. On this occasion a defective KERS kept Webber from progressing beyond Q1 on Saturday.
Despite a sluggish start – another trait of Webber’s latter years – he rocketed up the order after the first round of pit stops, making a series of overtakes en route to an unexpected third place finish.
Even then, Webber was unimpressed. He admitted after the race his progression through the field had been eased by the fresh tyres he had available to him after his premature qualifying exit, and claimed to derive little satisfaction from the DRS assisted moves he made on his competitors. It hinted at the disillusionment which would ultimately play a role in his decision to quit F1 two years later.
2012 British Grand Prix
While his first victory on the Northamptonshire circuit in 2010 owed a lot to Vettel’s first-lap puncture, two years later Webber took a fine victory at the track, catching and passing race leader Alonso with less than three laps to go after a race long chase.
It was Webber’s second win in four races, following his second win on the streets of Monaco two months earlier, consolidating his position above Vettel in the championship and bringing him within 13 points of championship leader Alonso.
But if Webber briefly entertained thoughts of challenging for the championship he was to be disappointed once more. Vettel overcame his mid-season struggles and went on to clinch the title, while Webber only finished in front of his team mate once more in his remaining season-and-a-half before retirement.
Despite his drop-off in performance in recent years, Webber’s departure from F1 last weekend was anything but ignominious. While he wasn’t, by his own admission, a consistent match for the likes of Vettel and Alonso, Webber established himself not only as a top driver but a uniquely popular character, in both the paddock and the grandstands.
Over to you
Which was your favourite of Mark Webber’s F1 performances? Are there any other drives from his pre-F1 days that deserve a mention? Have your say in the comments below.
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Images ?é?® Ferrari/Ercole Colombo, Ford.com, Williams/LAT, Red Bull/GEPA, Red Bull/Getty