Almost Men: Mark Webber

In the next episode of our series, we take a look at Mark Webber’s ultimately unsuccessful quest to become world champion.

It’s 2010 and on a hot November night in Abu Dhabi, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull celebrate the German’s shock title triumph after a win that propelled him to the top of the standings for the first time this season.

Away from all the cheering and spraying of champagne, there’s a team member sitting darkly with his parents in his bedroom in the Red Bull camper van, not in the mood to participate.

Mark Webber did his best to look good in front of the cameras, but it was clear he was in pain, and who could blame him? He had just lost a world championship that for so long that year had seemed like his to lose.

It was the end of a challenge for the title – ultimately the only one of his career – which had begun six months earlier in the sunny streets of Monte-Carlo.

At the previous round in Barcelona, ​​he took his first win of the year after a tough four-race opener in which he notched two P8 finishes and crossed the finish line in P9 in his Grand Prix of Australia at home. Another win would put him firmly back in the title fight.

After clinching pole position in Monaco with a stunning lap, he never looked in danger of failing to convert it into a race day victory, leading from start to finish, despite numerous safety cars erasing the leads he had built, to become the first Australian since Alan Jones in 1981 to lead the world championship.

“It’s absolutely amazing. Today is the best day of my life. Winning here is very, very special,” he said after the race.

With Vettel heading home in P2 and the duo occupying the top two spots in the standings, spirits were high at Red Bull with the team presenting a happy and united front in their celebrations. Only two weeks later, everything changed.

Racing in P2 and P3 in Turkey, Webber left the door open inside and Vettel tried to pass him, but drifted too far to the right and hit his team-mate, ending his race and forcing the Australian to stop, putting an end to his hopes. of victory.

Maybe it was a racing incident, maybe Vettel’s mistake, but it certainly wasn’t Webber’s fault. Nevertheless, Helmut Marko quickly attacked him, and Christian Horner did not defend him either. With both drivers locked in a five-way fight for the title, Red Bull had well and truly chosen sides.

From then on, Webber had to fight not only against his rival drivers but also against his own team, as he says in his autobiography.

“After Turkey, even though the team denied it, it slowly but painfully became clear that Marko was pulling the strings. More than that: there was an agenda – his own.

Nonetheless, he had no intention of backing down quietly and settling into a supporting role for Vettel, as he showed at Silverstone.

That the team was giving Vettel favorable treatment became clearer than ever on the Saturday of this race weekend when, after his updated front wing broke, he received Webber’s for qualifying and then beat him on pole by just over a tenth.

The Aussie was furious and channeled that rage to overtake his teammate early in the race and cruise to victory with a flawless performance, to top it all off with one of the sport’s most iconic team radio messages after the checkered flag.

After finishing in the top six in the next six races, claiming a win, securing three more podiums and making some valuable mistakes, he led Vettel and Fernando Alonso of 14 points with only three laps to go. He didn’t quite have a hand on the title, but he was close. And then everything went wrong.

Every F1 driver has a “what if?” moments in their careers, moments they look back on and wonder what might have been had they done it differently. Arguably Webber’s biggest came that year in Korea.

In the pouring rain, the race started under the safety car and the conditions were so treacherous that it was not suspended until three laps later.

Once it finally restarted, the safety car led the field until lap 17, when the real racing finally resumed and Webber made perhaps the biggest mistake of his F1 career.

Running too wide, he went over the slippery curbs and spun into the wall, ending his run and, with Vettel retiring soon after, handing the championship lead to Alonso.

He spent the next race, in Brazil, running in P2 behind his teammate. With Webber ahead of Vettel by a significant gap in the standings, many expected the order to pass for the two to swap places to give the team the best possible chance of beating Alonso to the title, but that didn’t. never did. It’s hard to imagine that would have been the case if the roles had been reversed.

“Fernando scored points at Hockenheim [where Felipe Massa was asked to move aside] what has happened in the past and will happen in the future,” Webber said after the race.

“Everyone has different ideas and that’s how it is. I still have a good chance and I will go to Abu Dhabi and I will do my best.

Anyway, there was no time to dwell on it. With one race to go, Webber was just eight points behind the Ferrari driver and seven ahead of Vettel. World champion status was still within reach.

But there was never really a point in the final round where he looked like he would triumph. Red Bull opted to pit it early, driving it back into traffic at an Abu Dhabi circuit where overtaking was nearly impossible in the days before DRS.

Even though it was a terrible strategy for him, it worked perfectly for the team. Alonso stopped to cover Webber and he too got stuck behind Vitaly Petrov, allowing Vettel to take the win and the Drivers’ Championship.

Webber would not get another title shot in his remaining three seasons on the grid as he struggled with regulatory changes and Red Bull staunchly backed Vettel, as the famous debacle of the Multi-21.

With the strategy producing three more consecutive Championship doubles, it was certainly a success and perhaps understandable as the quality gap between the two drivers widened, as the Aussie admitted in his book.

“I can say with absolute honesty that he is a better all round F1 driver than I have ever been,” he wrote.

“Seb was just as much a pawn in the game as I was, and the pressure on him to deliver must have been intense.”

Even so, looking at some of Webber’s performances in 2010 – particularly the dominating drives at Barcelona, ​​Monaco and Silverstone – you can’t help but wish he had received equal treatment and a fair shot at the title this year. there at the very least.

The fact that he managed to come close to the world championship title while driving for a team that didn’t give him much, if any, support is a testament to his abilities.

As he says himself, not bad for a number two driver…

Finley Crebolder

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