Mark Webber is being tipped to leave Formula One at the end of 2012 with many hoping the Aussie can leave on a high and maybe with a World title to his name…
Mark Webber is being tipped to leave Formula One at the end of 2012 with many hoping the Aussie can leave on a high and maybe with a World title to his name.
Webber made his junior karting debut at national level when he was 15, and in 1992 became New South Wales State karting Champion.
He then made his Formula Ford debut in 1994, and continued to make a name for himself with a series of impressive performances. In 1996 he won the Formula Ford Festival, and finished second in the British Formula Ford Championship while driving for Van Diemen.
His achievements led to him being voted Australian motorsport’s ‘Young Achiever’ and ‘International Achiever’ of 1996.
Moving to F3 for the following year, Mark competed with Alan Docking Racing; taking five podiums and a win at Brands Hatch before becoming Mercedes’ official works junior driver for the following year.
Webber took part in the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hour Race with Mercedes, but his season with AMG was cut short when the company cancelled its sportscar programme.
Webber and Peter Dumbreck both spectacularly somersaulted their cars at Le Mans, though neither thankfully was injured.
In 1999 he also made his Formula One test debut by participating in a two-day test with Arrows at Barcelona in December.
A busy 2000 saw Mark finish third in the F3000 Championship driving for Eurobet Arrows, as well as acting as the official tester for their F1 outfit (although contract problems meant that he failed to drive the A21).
He did complete a successful three-day evaluation test with Benetton however, and the team was quick to sign him up as their official 2001 tester.
During the same year, he battled it out with Justin Wilson in F3000 but had to make do ith second place in the Championship.
However with a Flavio Briatore contract in his pocket, many Australians held their breath that at last they were going to have their first decent driver in F1 since Alan Jones.
When he signed for Minardi for 2002 they got their wish – and more.
A dream debut saw Rubens Barrichello and Ralf Schumacher take out a large proportion of the grid at the first corner in Melbourne and Webber scrapped with Salo for a fifth-place finish.
That was as many points as Minardi scored all year, but a fifth place was more than Toyota could manage in 2002.
A switch to Jaguar duly followed and Webber proved quick to put new team-mate Antonio Pizzonia in the shade. Points were few and far between, and yet Webber finished the season with the reputation of a top-rate driver.
He remained at Jaguar for 2004, but by the halfway stage, with the team falling a long way short of the performance-related clause in his contract, it was an open secret that he would be leaving at the end of the season.
The only question was whether it would be to Renault or Williams.
Eventually, and in spite of a late big-money offer from Toyota, Webber plumped for Williams.
And after three years of impressing at the lower end of the grid, Webber was determined to make an immediate impact at the front with his new team.
Alas, the wins didn’t follow in 2005, during which Webber’s team were dealt one blow after another off the track with the news that sponsor HP, engine partner BMW and soon-to-return driver Jenson Button wouldn’t be a part of squad in 2006.
On the track it wasn’t much better either.
Mark failed to turn his good grid slots into strong race results, bagging just one podium finish the entire year. And although he was in the points more often than the less hyped-up Nick Heidfeld, Mark only edged ahead of his team-mate when an injury sidelined the German five races before the end of the season.
Mark finished the year tenth with 36 points.
But while 2005 wasn’t exactly what Williams and Webber had hoped for, the following season was even worse. In fact it was Williams’ worst season in more than a decade.
The team struggled with pace, reliability and just about everything else, with Mark claiming a measly seven points on his way to 14th in the Championship.
The poor results from both the driver and the team resulted in Webber and Williams ending their partnership after just two seasons and him moving to Red Bull Racing to partner David Coulthard.
In the first race of the 2007 season, in Melbourne, Webber qualified an impressive 7th place and held that position for the early part of the race, managing to finish in 13th position after the RB3 suffered from a throttle-related malfunction and a jammed fuel flap.
It was to be the story of Webber’s season as one malfunction after another eventually added up to seven retirements. And although he continued to qualify well for most of the season, those retirements hampered his and Red Bull’s progress, resulting in just three points-paying finishes for the Aussie throughout the season.
One of those, though, did include the second podium of his career at the European GP, after qualifying in 6th position. A rain spiced race, and the retirement of Kimi Raikkonen who was running third at the time, allowed Webber to claim the final position on the podium. However, he almost lost it on the penultimate corner, barely holding off Alex Wurz.
Webber also had his best chance yet of winning a race come oudone at the Japanese GP when Toro Rosso rookie Sebastian Vettel crashed into him. Webber was running P2 in the tricky wet conditions and closing in on the McLaren of Lewis Hamilton when Vettel ran into the back of him under a Safety Car taking both cars out of the race.
The season-ending Brazilian GP summed up Webber’s season when he retired while running in fourth place with yet another mechanical failure. It was his seventh DNF of the season.
Webber continued with Red Bull in 2008, however, once again the results weren’t the best. Although he put together a run of five successive points-scoring finishes at the start of the season, the latter stages saw Red Bull being outstripped by junior team Toro Rosso, who even claimed a win in Italy.
It was a huge disappointment for Red Bull with Webber and the team vowing (once again) to do better in 2009. But a broken leg in late November put the Aussie on the back foot at the start of the new season. However, it wasn’t long before he found his footing, claiming a podium finish in the third race of the Championship in China.
It was the start of the Red Bull racer’s fight for the World title, which he entered with an impressive run of six points finishers, four of which were podiums and one was his first ever race victory, which he achieved at the German GP. Unfortunately for the Aussie, he was soon out of the fight as five point-less finishes saw him drop down the order.
Webber, though, showed the tenacious streak that has earned him many a fan, coming back to win the penultimate race of the season in Brazil, adding another podium in Abu Dhabi.
He finished the season fourth in the Drivers’ standings, a marked