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A Tribute: Australian Mark Webber And 12 Years Of Formula 1 Racing Photo:
mark_webber_2001_benneton_03 Photo: tmr
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mark_webber_2005_bmw_01 Photo: tmr
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mark_webber_2011_red_bull_06 Photo: tmr
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mark_webber_2007_red_bull_03 Photo: tmr
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Peter Anderson | Nov, 28 2013 | 14 Comments

Mark Webber crossed the finish line for the final time in his ground-breaking Formula 1 career this past weekend, taking a fine second place. He made his final tour with helmet and gloves off, waving to the fans.

Despite a relaxed approach and somewhat less intense character than many of his peers, the Australian driver always elicits a strong reaction from F1 fans.

Webber was a late arrival in F1, after years of trying. Managed by king-maker Flavio Briatore, he looked to be just about there in 2002, with a race seat going begging at then front-runners Renault.

That dead-cert turned into disappointment when Webber was passed over, the drive instead going to the much younger Fernando Alonso. Webber ended up taking Alonso's seat at back-of-the-grid Minardi.

The Minardi team had been bought by knockabout Australian aviation entrepreneur Paul Stoddart. Webber had raced for "Stoddy" in his Formula 3000 team, European Racing.

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Webber lined up for his first race of a three race contract at the Australian Grand Prix in 2002.

If Ralf Schumacher hadn't fired his BMW-Williams over the left rear of Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari, things might have been very different.

The crash wiped out almost half the field, giving Webber the opportunity to drag the unwieldy, half-broken Minardi around his home track to finish fifth and in the points.

Those two points pretty much guaranteed Webber could see the season out at the team, as it meant more valuable TV money and free freight for the next season.

Predictably, he was off to Jaguar after that first season, replacing Eddie Irvine for 2003.

While the team remained hopeless, Webber shined, completely destroying both Antonio Pizzonia and Justin Wilson in between retirements and sparkling qualifying performances.

He qualified third in Brazil, but had a monster crash in the race that also claimed Alonso's Renault.

In 2004 he piloted the Jaguar R5, a slightly improved car. Again he showed his teammate, Christian Klien how it was done.

By the end of the year, Ford had had enough of F1 and Webber had a choice to make. Briatore wanted him at Renault, but for 2005, Webber wanted Williams.

Williams, of course, had been the happy home of Alan Jones over two decades earlier and Webber's heart lead him to sign for that team.

His other possible choice, Renault, carried Alonso to the title. It wasn't all bad news, as he secured his first F1 podium at a track that would be good to him in the future, Monaco.

He finished that season a frustrated tenth place.

Mark stayed with Williams for 2006, this time partnered by Nico Rosberg. It was a tense year, with Webber dubbing the German youngster "Britney" and clashing with him at the Brazilian Grand Prix, ending his time at Williams by the side of the track, as he had done so many times that year.

In 2007, it seemed Webber's luck had changed. He was taken on by Red Bull Racing, the hugely well-funded team born from the chaotic ashes of his old Jaguar team.

The new team was able to make progress while McLaren dominated the headlines with Fernando Alonso's tantrums and the team being embroiled in an espionage scandal with Ferrari.

Webber put on a number of strong showings, including a gritty performance at the rain-hit Japanese Grand Prix. Webber was looking good for a podium, if not the win, when Sebastian Vettel piled into him.

Webber had started the race with food poisoning, even vomiting in his helmet, but he stayed out, before being collected by the young German.

When asked by the BBC what had happened, Webber replied in typically forthright fashion: "Well, it’s kids, isn’t it? Kids with not enough experience, doing a good job, then they f**k it all up."

Ferrari won the championship with Kimi Raikkonen, while Webber and teammate David Coulthard took the team to fifth on debut.

The 2008 season was frustrating for Webber, scoring 21 points and finishing eleventh in the championship, but well ahead of Coulthard. The Newey-designed car was fast but hugely unreliable.

It was also announced that Vettel would partner Webber in 2009.

Between the 2008 and 2009 seasons, disaster struck. During his own charity event, the Mark Webber Challenge, he was hit by a car while on the mountain bike stage. It was a bad break, requiring surgery to effectively weld his leg back together with pins and rods.

While lying on the ground, Webber famously asked if the driver was okay.

He was still on crutches for his return to the car in winter testing and started the season with marginal fitness, but insisted he was fine, despite looking gaunt from a punishing program to speed the healing process.

He improved in the early part of the season, particularly on his return to Europe.

His first Formula One victory came in agonising fashion at the German Grand Prix. Webber dominated the weekend, starting from pole.

On the start, Brawn driver Rubens Barrichello drew up beside Webber, who didn't see him. Sweeping across the track to protect his line, Webber sideswiped the veteran Brazilian.

The bump had no effect on the Brawn or on Barrichello's race, but the stewards awarded the Red Bull driver a penalty anyway. Webber was having none of it and took a commanding victory.

Webber won again in Brazil, finishing fourth for the season, while Vettel finished second with four wins.

The 2010 season was by far Webber's best but probably his most difficult. Vettel's star was rising but Webber had the German's measure for most of the season.

Their clash at the Turkish Grand Prix ripped open the team and the two drivers' relationship, a wound that never healed.

The Turkish race also threw open a debate about Red Bull's perceived favouritism towards Vettel. The young driver had come through Red Bull's driver development program, sheperded by Red Bull's motorsport advisor, Dr Helmut Marko.

Webber's relationship with Marko had always been difficult as the Australian's ties with Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz kept Marko from making the ultimate decision on drivers. During his time at Red Bull, Marko regularly criticised Webber in public, adding to the tension.

Webber won the next race, the British Grand Prix, in emphatic fashion. He shouldered Vettel aside at the first corner and streaked away.

On the in-lap he uttered the immortal words, "Not bad for a number two" in response to team boss Horner's congratulations.

The European Grand Prix saw Webber's car take to the air again after hitting the rear of Heikki Kovalainen's Lotus. He emerged largely unscathed, but it was a heart-stopping moment reminiscent of his 1999 Le Mans campaign.

Webber lost the ascendancy after the August break and arguably lost the championship at the Korean Grand Prix where he made a rare error that put him out of the race, taking Nico Rosberg with him.

Webber eventually finished the season third with four wins and yet another broken bone. He fractured his shoulder while training before the fateful Korean race.

Some years earlier he had broken his ribs in testing and started the season with that injury, but declared he "didn't want to make a fuss."

He finished the championship in third place.

Season 2011 saw a subdued Webber fail to score a win until the final race in Brazil, coming home third in the championship behind Webber and Button.

It was an interesting season, however, with Webber's string of mid-season podiums catapaulting him into contention for second a few races from the end, but Vettel dominated the field while Webber's car regularly failed to work at full potential.

That year Webber also caused a minor stir for being one of the few drivers to get fired up about the situation in Bahrain that saw the race cancelled.

His pass on Alonso at the Belgian Grand Prix will also go down as one of the greatest in the sport's history, firing past the Spaniard at the famous Eau Rouge corner at speeds approaching 300/km/h.

2012 was much the same as 2011, but with Vettel being run significantly harder by Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, winning the title by just three points.

Webber admitted to having trouble dealing with the new tyres as, like Hamilton, his driving style is harder on rubber.

He was in contention mid-season, with two wins in Monaco and Britain, but faded after the summer break as Vettel surged with a string of four wins from Singpaore to India while Webber retired twice, in Abu Dhabi and Texas.

He fell to sixth in the championship and endured some post-season sledging from inside his team for allegedly failing to make it easy for Vettel to secure the sixth place he needed to win the championship.

Webber shrugged that off and came back in 2013, seemingly with renewed vigour, but with a secret - he had decided in December 2012 that this season would be his last in F1. He had his customary difficult Australian Grand Prix but came out punching at the Malaysian race.

Despite being told not to, Vettel passed the Australian on the Sepang track, contrary to team orders, giving rise to the 'Multi 21' affair. The incident led at first to contrition from Vettel, then a hardened view by the next race, the German claiming he would do it again, despite his apologies.

The drama seemed to take the wind out of Webber's sails as the team failed to publicly support him.

He hit back in Monaco with a podium and then another two races later in Britain, but his car has already failed completely four times this year, often when he was in a points position. Added to that, his car has had a high number of KERS and gearbox issues, robbing him of speed.

Another setback was a penalty after allegedly failing to request permission of the Singapore marshals to enter the track and hitch a ride back to the pits with Fernando Alonso.

Vettel has trounced the competition this year and Webber's position looks worse due to his multiple retirements.

He was nearly lured to Ferrari for his final year, but he decided to see it out with Red Bull. He put his retirement from F1 down to a few things.

"The decision has been there for quite a long time for me actually. So, I've known for quite a while, I've had a plan and I've stuck to it," Webber said.

"There's going to be big, big changes in this sport next year, so I may as well go and do those big, big changes where my future is going to be."

Webber is moving back to sportscars, something he vowed he wouldn't do after his infamous back-flipping incidents at Le Mans with Mercedes.

Webber has long been a Porsche fan, often mentioning on Twitter driving home from airports in his 911.

The Porsche factory team he goes to will be built around him, a luxury he'd never enjoyed in F1 despite his obvious talent.

Many of the sport's most respected commentators and competitors agree Webber is one of the best drivers on the grid and if it hadn't been for that pesky kid, Vettel, he may well be a multiple world champion instead.

Formula One will miss the straight-talking boy from Queanbeyan, as will many fans, whether they barrack for him or not.

He leaves behind a strong legacy, with many safety initiatives from his time in the Grand Prix Driver's Association as well as being one of the toughest and bravest drivers of his generation.

 
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