Mark Webber nearing the end in F1

Robert Grant Roar Pro

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    Mark Webber could be in with a chance of winning his first championship. (Getty Images - Red Bull supplied)

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    This year could well define Mark Webber’s Formula One legacy.

    In many ways it is a ‘now or never’ season for the Australian, who will be 37 in August and the oldest driver on the grid.

    Red Bull has won the past three drivers’ championships – but in the hands of the young star Sebastian Vettel, with Webber acting in the unwanted role of wingman.

    Webber is on a yearly deal and it is debatable whether his contract will extend into 2014, with talented younger racers, including countryman Daniel Ricciardo, eager to unseat him.

    The veteran has repeatedly said he would not move down pit lane to an uncompetitive car, so this year could be his last chance to drive a pacesetting machine and claim the elusive world crown.

    In 2010 he set up his best chance to win the championship before proceeding to create his own hurdles while heading for glory.

    He went on a victory spree in a standout year, winning in Spain, Monaco, Britain and Hungary.

    Webber headed the world championship points table before an unforced error resulted in what would ultimately become a disastrous spin in the Korean GP.

    It was a serious setback yet he still had a chance to take the title in the season-ending Abu Dhabi GP.

    Qualifying a disappointing fifth virtually put paid to that bid in a messy race which saw he and fellow contender Fernando Alonso involved in a race of their own while Vettel slipped by to take the crown from under their noses.

    Webber was still competitive last year, winning again in Monaco and Britain.

    The Australian has angrily disputed suggestions he should quit, or that he will slow down with age and become a liability to Red Bull.

    “I don’t see this as my last year in Formula One,” said. “I have signed one-year contracts for the last four years here even when I am fighting for the world championship.

    “I still feel 25. I know I am not but I feel young.

    “I don’t feel as though I am getting tired when driving the car. I feel good.”

    Slow starter?

    The Australian is renowned for his fitness, durability, and straight-talking, and he is undoubtedly still quick, but some things never change. And for Webber that means slow starts.

    Unless he can produce an unlikely turnaround, Webber’s blank stare when the lights go out will continue.

    He has frequently lost races before the first corner from pole position, a source of puzzlement and frustration for him, his team and his fans.

    Red Bull boss Christian Horner has given complex and technical reasons why this sort of thing has become Webber’s trademark.

    The fact is though, that it does not happen to the other leading drivers.

    Horner did little to clarify the question when he produced techno-babble involving the engine being in alignment with the chassis electronics, the need to synchronise two clutches and “bite points”.

    Horner very generously says “Mark’s had some good starts, unfortunately the bad starts have been when he’s been right up the front”.

    In contrast, in the same Red Bull car, Vettel lost a total of just four places off the start.

    Enemies within?

    Sebastian Vettel's on pole at Monaco

    Sebastian Vettel grabbed pole for the Formula One Monaco Grand Prix – Photograph: LUCA BRUNO/AP

    Apart from outside reservations, Webber has had to face criticism from within his own team, incredibly virtually being accused of choking.

    This comes from Red Bull `advisor’ Dr Helmet Marko, an unabashed Vettel fan, who has put Webber under tremendous pressure within the team with his continuous partisanship.

    Unfortunately, Marko does make some relevant points. It is embarrassing, though, when his disparaging comments are published in the Red Bull team’s in-house magazine.

    “It seems to me that Webber has on average two races per year where he is unbeatable, but he can’t maintain this form throughout the year,” Marko told Red Bulletin.

    “As soon as his prospects start to look good in the World Championship, he has a little trouble with the pressure that this creates.

    “In comparison with Seb’s rising form, it seems to me that Mark’s form somehow flattens out.

    “If some technical mishap occurs, like with the alternator for example, he falls relatively easily into a downward spiral.”

    Webber’s bounce back from a miserable 2011 with his two wins last year was brief. A poor second half of the season saw him slip down to sixth in the drivers’ championship, five places astray of Vettel who clinched his third crown.

    According to Marko, Webber has been psychologically derailed by having to match perhaps the sport’s best driver after a career of seeing off second rate teammates in other outfits.

    “For much of his career, Mark was never in a top team, but he was always regarded as a high flyer if he only could get into the right team,” Marko said.

    “Then Red Bull puts him in a (winning) car and suddenly along comes this young kid and he snatches the booty from under Mark’s nose.

    “Psychologically it’s not easy, of course. This would gnaw away at anyone’s confidence. It’s more than understandable.”

    Retirement will come, sooner rather than later, and it is clear the Australian is already wrestling with the subject.

    “I haven’t been there yet but it is going to be a very difficult moment, no question about it,” Webber told GP International magazine.

    “I suppose it’s just about getting the timing right – not pulling the plug too early, knowing you have more to give of yourself, or going too long and not being quick enough or struggling to do the things you used to be able to do.”

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    The Crowd Says (18)

    • March 8th 2013 @ 10:50am
      Frankie Hughes said | March 8th 2013 @ 10:50am | ! Report

      Mark Webber has merely been fortunate to drive for a team that has joined Scuderia and McLaren as a mega team.

      Webber is a midfield runner at best.

      That’s the reason Vettel destroys him for fun.

      • Editor

        March 8th 2013 @ 1:56pm
        Tristan Rayner said | March 8th 2013 @ 1:56pm | ! Report

        Except, of course, when Webber blasts Vettel and the field at say Silverstone, Brazil, Nurburgring etc?

        (Webber is terrible at Bahrain, Valencia, and Melbourne)

    • March 8th 2013 @ 11:00am
      Seano said | March 8th 2013 @ 11:00am | ! Report

      He said he won’t move to an Unconpetative car but I bet he would move to Ferrari or maclaren I think he will drive next year but not for red bull.

      Comment left via The Roar’s iPhone app. Download it now [http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/the-roar/id327174726?mt=8].

    • March 8th 2013 @ 11:26am
      Tlux said | March 8th 2013 @ 11:26am | ! Report

      There are two world championships in Formula 1. The World Drivers Championship and The World Constructors Championship.
      Whilst the WDC is the most ‘popular’ crown, the WCC is the one that actually matters to the teams in terms of prize money.
      Red Bull have won the WDC and WCC for the last three years. There is literally nothing more they can do.

      It’s easy to claim that Mark has not won the world championship in a car with the demonstrated ability to win world championships. But, from a Red Bull point of view, he has done his job ensure the team secured both championships. Felipe Massa certainly didn’t do his job.

      Would there be this level criticism if this were another sport? To use a cricket analogy Sebastian Vettel is like a Tendulka and Webber is a Mark Waugh. One an all time great, the other, a very good player.

    • March 8th 2013 @ 11:49am
      Dan Ced said | March 8th 2013 @ 11:49am | ! Report

      Webber is a better driver than Vettel, not as consistent, and not as short as Vettel mind you.

      I hope for more consistency from Webber in 2013, in starts, and especially that bogey 2nd half of the season!

      Vettel’s season was about on par with Webber’s last year if you remove that purple patch of a few wins in a row in the last 3rd of the season.

      • Editor

        March 8th 2013 @ 1:58pm
        Tristan Rayner said | March 8th 2013 @ 1:58pm | ! Report

        I’d offer that Vettel is more ruthless – both with his own team and competitors. If Webber puts it together, as he does on certain tracks, he’d be a real force.

        He was far better in qualifying in 2012, due to the removal of the double-diffuser/blown diffuser.

        • Roar Guru

          March 8th 2013 @ 2:53pm
          Mat Coch said | March 8th 2013 @ 2:53pm | ! Report

          Seb is a more complete driver.

          Consistency is part of being a racing driver. Seb is more consistent.

          He can also extract more from a car which is not absolutely to his liking. Give Mark a perfect car and he is a match for anyone in the world. Give Seb a near perfect car and so is he.

          • Editor

            March 8th 2013 @ 4:48pm
            Tristan Rayner said | March 8th 2013 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

            I don’t agree. Mark’s been amazing in less than a ‘perfect’ car. He has favourable tracks, and always has. Reliability is what he needs.

            • Roar Guru

              March 11th 2013 @ 11:19am
              Mat Coch said | March 11th 2013 @ 11:19am | ! Report

              But Seb too has suffered from reliability and gone on to win the championship.

              Mark is very, very good but he’s not a world champion. He is the current day David Coulthard; very good and in another era probably a world champion, but not this era.

    • March 8th 2013 @ 2:16pm
      Fivehole said | March 8th 2013 @ 2:16pm | ! Report

      I’ve never seen two drivers who get the opposite ends of the luck spectrum as much as vettel and webber. (DRS problems etc) A lot of that though is caused by the team. Pit stops Mark seems to be the guinea pig coming in early to see if tyre changes are going to help etc. Invariably they feed him onto the track behind back markers, whilst Vettel seems to get clean air.

      At least thats the way it appears to me.

      • Roar Guru

        March 8th 2013 @ 2:52pm
        Mat Coch said | March 8th 2013 @ 2:52pm | ! Report

        No team would deliberately sabotage one driver, there is too much money at stake.

        Webber has been unlucky to drive against one of the most successful drivers the sport has seen. Statistically Seb is on par with Senna, Stewart, Piquet etc. Only Prost, Fangio and Schumacher stand over him.

        Webber is unlucky, but luck and malice are two different things.

        • March 8th 2013 @ 3:06pm
          Fivehole said | March 8th 2013 @ 3:06pm | ! Report

          I agree they are not deliberately sabotaging him, but no doubt that as the #1 driver Vettel gets the favourable decisions. I understand that, but sometimes it appears (I may well be wrong) that the sole focus is on Vettel’s tactical positioning. If Mark does alright too then thats good, if not, it provides excellent data to improve Vettels race.

          It especially grated in 2010 when Mark was ahead of Vettel in the standings and they kept giving Vettel the opportunity to catch up.

          You are right though, Vettel is a successful and consistent driver, moreso than Mark.

          Wont happen but i’d love to see Alonso and Vettel in the same team, with no #1 driver. Then there’d be some real team battles!

          • Roar Guru

            March 11th 2013 @ 11:22am
            Mat Coch said | March 11th 2013 @ 11:22am | ! Report

            The risk of two super fast drivers competing is they steal points from one another.

            Williams tried that in 1986 and 1987.

            Rather than walking to a brace of easy titles they won a drivers title. Just.

    • March 9th 2013 @ 2:26pm
      Willam said | March 9th 2013 @ 2:26pm | ! Report

      I suspect Webber to go, Mercedes to give RB a run for their money, Alonso to be WDC and Lewis Hamilton is going to be excellent in Mercedes.
      He is underperforming and I suspect Felix de Costa will take Dans place, there is a lot of talk of Mercedes of being consistent in Spain, Alonso should of been crowned WC last year and he has got potential to go further, Damon Hill is saying Lewis can be crowned world champion.
      On 2014 Calendar, Cape Town has ruled out a F1 bid return, while Mexico and New Jersey is definite of staging a GP, Thailand in 2015

      • Roar Guru

        March 11th 2013 @ 11:25am
        Mat Coch said | March 11th 2013 @ 11:25am | ! Report

        Lewis can be world champion. So can Jules Bianchi. It doesn’t mean he will be champion.

        Pre-season is difficult to read. Who is genuinely fast and who is show boating? Mercedes has cause for a little of the latter.

        We’ll find out in a few days but I don’t see Mercedes a genuine threat this year and feel that if they do start to fall off the pace they will quickly begin shifting focus to 2014.

        I remain skeptical of New Jersey. Mexico is still unfolding, but Tavo Hellmund is involved there and he is a sharp, well connected guy. I’ve more faith in Mexico than NJ.

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