He may have never won a championship, but newly-retired Mark Webber will be sorely missed in the Formula One paddock by fans and colleagues alike.
When he crossed the line to win the British Grand Prix in 2010, Webber echoed the words ‘Not bad for a number 2 driver’ (a statement made in retaliation to having his new front wing taken off him and given to Sebastian Vettel, after the young German broke his own in practice) and in many ways, that statement summed up Mark Webber more accurately than any other ever could. He was a great driver and, on his day, capable of beating the likes of Vettel and Fernando Alonso. But Webber will be the first to admit that consistency, particularly on the slower tracks, has eluded him.
Webber will be the first to admit that consistency, particularly on the slower tracks, has eluded him.
In his early career, Webber enjoyed a fantastic reputation up and down the grid and was considered by many to be one of the fastest one-lap specialists. It’s a shame, then, that in those years he had the misfortune of driving for Jaguar and Williams, who were significantly off the pace during that era. He was however able to stand out thanks to some terrific qualifying laps, particularly his lap at Malaysia in 2004, which shocked many as he put the ill-performing Jaguar at the front end of the grid. Albeit, since 2010, he’s significantly struggled to match his now four-time World Champion teammate and it has become easy to overlook his raw pace.
To understand Webber’s struggles, you must understand his strengths. His ability to get the most out of the car in sharp, demanding corners has always been his biggest asset and he does that better than anybody. Though when F1 moved to the degrading Pirelli tyres, this became a disadvantage as they needed to be nursed more than the Bridgestones and indeed the Michelins of Webber’s early career. To complicate things further, car development from mid-2010 onwards was all focused towards the rear of the car – the diffuser in particular – which favours drivers who can use the extra rear grip to stabilise a loose end in the slower corners. For Webber, who was entering the twilight of his career, it was simply a case of not being able to teach an old dog new tricks. Vettel, on the other hand, was quick to learn and quicker to adapt and, apart from the first half of the 2012 season, he’s been a league ahead of the Australian.
Listening to Webber over the past year, it becomes clear that he was falling out of love with the sport. The push to look after tyres and not race flat out disinterested him. The direction the sport is going towards new, slower circuits – which often facilitate poor racing like in Singapore and Abu Dhabi – does not excite him the way Silverstone, Spa and Suzuka do. His tweet after a practice session at Mugello last year summed it up; he claimed that ‘one lap of Mugello is more rewarding than 1000 at Yas Marina’, the Abu Dhabi circuit.
That’s the great thing about Webber. He is blunt and honest. Put the other drivers in front of the media and you’ll get the same monotonous, PR-friendly answers. Webber was never afraid of speaking his mind, and he should be applauded for it. Whether it’s his famous ‘The team are happy with the result today’ dig at Silverstone 2010, when Red Bull Racing favoured Vettel with regards to the newer, faster front wing, or his ‘Multi-21 Seb’ comment after the team order scandal earlier this year, Webber will be missed in a sport where the drivers sometimes feel so far away from reality and the fans.
Webber was never afraid of speaking his mind, and he should be applauded for it.
Arguably, he should have won the 2010 World Championship if it wasn’t for that famous mistake trying to catch his team mate in those appalling conditions, and yes, he was at times in a different (much worse) league than Vettel this year and in 2011. But F1 needs more Mark Webbers, if only for his honesty, love for the sport and of course, his Aussie grit.
Enjoy your post F1 career Mark. Our sport will be worse off without you.