The Malaysian Grand Prix re-opened old wounds
Fans of Formula One will know that Mark Webber is a down-to-earth personality, universally recognised as one of the circuit's nice guys. This was also clear from his appearance BBC’s Top Gear program on Sunday night.
Having worked closely with Webber during his time at Jaguar Racing, I can confirm that all the above is true. And after his announcement that he will leave F1 at the end of the season to join the Porsche Sportscar programme, I for one will be sad to see him go.
So how to grade him on his season so far? Well to be honest, it hasn't been great although some awful luck during the first half of the season has a lot to do with his fifth place standing in the championship.
Aside from his stunning and unexpected fifth place finish for Minardi on his grand prix debut, Webber has surprisingly never fared too well at his home grand prix in Melbourne and 2013 was sadly to be no different.
He gave himself a good chance by qualifying on the front row of the grid alongside teammate Sebastian Vettel but made a poor start, Lewis Hamilton and the Ferraris sailing past him as he got bogged down off the grid.
From then on he was always playing catch up and his sixth place finish was a disappointing way to end his Australia swansong.
Then Malaysia and we all know what happened there. With tyre preservation in mind after the final pit stops on lap 43, Red Bull issued the order ‘Multi 21’ to the drivers to maintain position until the finish, effectively giving Webber the race win.
Vettel chose to disobey team orders and three laps later barged his way past a bemused but battling Webber into turn four and kept the lead to the end. Webber, understandably, was not amused and the incident rekindled a feud that had been burning since Turkey 2010.
Matters went from bad to worse in China where Webber’s chances effectively ended on Saturday when he was demoted to the back of the grid after running out of fuel in qualifying. Despite charging his way through the field to 10th on race day, a collision with Jean-Eric Vergne on lap 15 forced him to pit before a loose wheel nut saw his right rear wheel detach, ending his chances.
Stewards declared the incident Webber’s fault and slapped him with a three-place grid penalty for Bahrain. This resulted in a battling seventh place finish in Bahrain, but another mediocre qualifying in Spain left him seventh on the grid and fifth behind Vettel by the chequered flag.
Webber secured a long overdue first podium finish in Monaco but remained underwhelmed at having to nurse his tyres on a long two-stop strategy.
The Australian was catching Hamilton in Canada when misfortune struck yet again. Coming up to lap Giedo van der Garde, the Caterham driver appeared to leave him enough space before turning in on his Red Bull and damaging his front wing.
Although Webber decided not to change the wing, his race was clearly compromised and he was again left bemoaning his luck after finishing fourth. In his post race interview with Sky Sports, Webber was understandably upset with the Caterham man.
Obviously it was his fault and he got a time penalty for it, but then so do I because I have a damaged front-wing. I don't know if he has a lot of concentration to drive the car in terms of what is straight ahead of him. We had a lot of blue flags up at the hairpin and I was in his mirrors for on the long straight behind him and then we made contact. I couldn't believe it. Fair enough if it had been for position, but when you are being lapped and the leaders are coming through battling for the top spots and you close the door it is not very clever.
So on to Silverstone, the scene of two previous race victories. And it so easily could have been three had the race lasted a couple of laps longer. Following the retirements of Hamilton and Vettel, Webber found himself right behind leader Nico Rosberg on the final lap having carved his way through the field after a poor start dropped him out of the top 10.
But he could not quite get close enough to attempt to overtake, the Mercedes pulling clear on the straights to win by a mere 0.7 seconds. Afterwards, Webber told BBC Sport that it had been like 'Russian Roulette'.
It has been an incredible day. First there was the contact with Romain Grosjean, and the wing was damaged. The boys did a great job changing that and then we got into the race. I was praying for the safety car but not with the way they were coming. It was Russian Roulette. I made the most of them though, the strategy was one of our best, and yeah I thought: 'Here is Nico, the one car left.' It would have been nice to have a few more laps but that is the way it goes. We could be standing here with punctures and no podium.
Not for the first time this season, Red Bull’s pitwork cost Webber dear in Germany as the Australian was sent out with a loose right rear wheel that detached in the pitlane, and resulted in cameraman Paul Allen in hospital with a broken collarbone and ribs.
That Webber made it back to finish seventh 37 seconds behind winner Vettel again showed he had the pace for far better.
On to Hungary where a KERS and gearbox problem in qualifying left him 10th on the grid as he chose not to set a time in Q3 in order to start on the medium compound. The strategy paid off and Webber drove a solid race to finish fourth.
Will Mark Webber leave Formula One with another victory under his belt in 2013?
I expect things to improve during the second half of 2013, not only because his run of bad luck can’t go on forever but also because a burden has been lifted off his shoulders with the announcement it will be his final season.
Webber is now free to go out there and enjoy himself free from any extra pressure. I expect more podiums and even a race win or two. Team orders permitting, of course.
Mark’s mid-season marks:
Race craft: 7/10
Summary: Has suffered some appalling luck so far. Things can only get better.