Can Mark Webber pull a Cadel?
Mark Webber wins the 2012 Monaco F1 Grand Prix (Image: Red Bull Racing)
After a romping win on Sunday night, Mark Webber is poised to force the fickle Australian public to rethink their opinion of him. Like Cadel Evans last year, he can go from being a nearly man to a champion.
One of the most delightful aspects of Cadel’s wonderful win was that he proved so many of us wrong. A few years of ‘good finishes’ and ‘so close, so far’ had pigeonholed him as an exceptional cyclist, but no champion.
So when he ran down Andy Schleck in the time trial, after fighting all alone up the mountains night after night, it was a delightful retort.
Mark Webber had won eight Grand Prix races before Sunday night, but none equal what he did around Silverstone for 300km. On a track where you can pass, the very best drivers in the world had incident free and uneventful runs to the finish, and Mark was *gulp* the fastest!
This is the same Mark Webber who has been a running joke for years for breaking down. The same Mark Webber who is ‘soft’, ‘whiney’ and nowhere near tough enough to be a champion.
On Sunday night, he started surrounded by the three dominant figures of the last decade of Formula 1. Yet Michael Schumacher, Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel could not beat the Australian, despite Vettel being in exactly the same car.
As the season approaches the half way point, Webber is right with Alonso and ahead of Vettel. It is unlikely (but not impossible) that anyone else will figure in the title fight, especially with McLaren’s sudden dip into the midfield.
If Mark can continue the form he showed on Sunday and indeed for the last five months, he will be the Formula 1 Motor Racing Champion of the World.
Which in his own words is “Not bad for a number 2 driver!”
The very fact that Webber is so underrated in Australia is partially due to the lack of interest and knowledge in motor racing.
The casual fan sees Webber not finishing races and then being beaten by his teammate when he has a shot at winning the title. The F1 world watched a man race in a series of mediocre cars and methodically getting the better of highly rated talents like Christian Klein, Antonio Pizzonia, Nico Rosberg and Nick Heidfeld.
Now teamed with Sebastien Vettel, in my opinion the quickest single lap driver we have seen since Ayrton Senna, he has been beaten, but kept his head up so that now Seb isn’t entirely happy with his drive, he has been right there to take over.
Indeed last night he was retained for another season at Red Bull, the best team of the past four years, who are clearly aware of his quality.
The other side of Webber’s ordinary reputation in Australia is our curious tendency to make an immediate snap judgement on an athlete and hold it for the rest of their careers.
Hence Michael Clarke is a lair, despite being stunningly uncontroversial and quiet for the last couple of years.
Benji Marshall is injury prone, despite playing almost every game for the past three years.
Sonny Bill Williams is a money hungry traitor, despite the All Blacks and New Zealand Rugby going out of their way to praise him and his manager for their fairness in their recent negotiations.
And Cadel Evans is too brittle mentally and not strong enough physically to win the Tour de France! How we cheered when he proved us wrong.
Mark Webber had the misfortune of getting his first good Formula 1 seat at Williams at precisely the moment they entered their least competitive period since the mid 1970s.
He is ‘soft’, ‘unreliable’ and no match for the best on the grid.
However, if he repeats his Sunday Masterclass a few more times between now and December, we could have the pleasure of another Aussie champion proving us wrong.