Why Mark Webber can win the Australian GP
Ten years on from his fairytale debut on home soil, Mark Webber is yet to improve on the fifth place that he achieved against all odds with Minardi.
Year after year in the lead-up to the usual season opener in Melbourne, supporters and experts have predicted the Australian to soak up the weight of expectation and at least feature on the podium.
Instead, all that Webber has to show after that magical afternoon in 2002 is a fifth place in 2005 with Williams, and again last season while his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel strolled to victory.
Not for lack of trying on Webber’s part, his record in Melbourne has been beset by circumstances beyond his control: engine failure, suspension failure, and the notoriously fickle turn one to name a few.
The same can’t be said for 2011, however, not when Vettel won the race by twenty-two seconds. Not when Webber lined up third on the grid in a car which was far and away the class of the field, a(nother) masterpiece by technical guru Adrian Newey.
Webber’s evening was blighted by his struggles with new tyre supplier Pirelli’s rapid-wearing rubber, to the extent that he had to make three pitstops throughout the race, condemning him to another fifth.
This was to be the story of Webber’s 2011 campaign, alongside his chronically poor race starts.
The Australian conceded more than twenty positions off the line up to the Belgian Grand Prix, where he ironically delivered a masterful drive, including the pass of the season on Fernando Alonso through Eau Rouge, recovering to finish in second place behind Vettel.
By the time he began to get his head around the tyres and adopted a start-line technique not dissimilar to his successful 2010 campaign, the damage was done, and Webber was condemned to the dreaded number two driver status.
His 2009 campaign was physically draining following the horrific bike crash in which he broke his leg and fractured his shoulder, and his latest campaign was blighted by memories of letting the 2010 title slip through his fingers to his teammate at the season finale.
If only Webber’s races weren’t so compromised by the end of lap one, it is scary to imagine what he might have been capable of.
You only need to look at China last season, where he came from last, storming home to third position, to realise that when Webber enjoys synergy, he is as good as anyone.
That’s why 2012 and this weekend’s Australian Grand Prix promises to be Webber’s best shot at glory. With the nightmares of last season firmly behind him, revitalised by an off-season spent shaping up, his mental state is as good as it has been in a long time.
Pirelli has opted to take a more conservative approach with their rubber this season, with the gap between each compound less radical, and this can’t hurt Webber’s chances.
If Webber can make a respectable start similar to the ones he finally enjoyed in the back half of last season on Sunday, all he has to do is qualify in a decent position and he will be set for a good evening.
Melbourne has a notorious record of carnage; nobody is immune from running into trouble, and one senses that if Webber can finally avoid this and make his own luck, come this Sunday it really is his best chance yet of spraying champagne, maybe even from the top step of the podium.