Mark Webber's Tenth F1 Season: Can He Overcome Vettel and Become F1 Champion?

Duncan ScottAnalyst IApril 3, 2011

Mark Webber: A Popular Figure in F1
Mark Webber: A Popular Figure in F1Clive Mason/Getty Images

To establish his name at the top of the sport an F1 driver has to be in the right car at the right time. The best drivers can squeeze a little extra pace from a car,  but not a great deal, so uncompetitive machinery is massively frustrating for an ambitious and talented F1 man.

Such was Mark Webber's misfortune for year after year after entering the sport with Minardi Asiatech in 2002.

Throughout his F1 career, laconic Australian driver Webber has been popular with fans, and has been liked and trusted by his peers, as proven by his long directorship of the Grand Prix Drivers' Association.

It does seem, though, that Lady Luck has never been fully on his side.

Minardi were perennially at the bottom of F1 food chain, and in his year with them Webber scored the grand total of two points. Crucially, however, Webber wiped the floor with his team-mate Alex Yoong, who scored zero points. Media and fans were impressed by Webber's obvious talent, and he won several awards, including the 'Rookie Of The Year'.

As the years rolled by, Webber was to make a habit of out-qualifying and out-scoring his team mates.

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For the 2003 season Webber moved to Jaguar Racing, the Ford-owned F1 team founded by Jackie and Paul Stewart. At the start of the season Webber was partnered by Antonia Pizzonia, a Brazilian driver who was nicknamed 'Jungle Boy' and who has since returned to the Amazon. Pizzonia proved unequal to the challenge and was fired mid-season, to be replaced by Justin Wilson.

Finishing the 2003 season with seventeen points and tenth place in the drivers championship was an extremely good performance for Webber, as recognised by him winning Autocar magazine's 'Driver Of The Year Award.'

The 2004 season was not a good one for Jaguar Racing. Their performance was way off the pace, and it was to be their last because Ford announced their withdrawal from F1. However, Webber scored seven points against new team-mate Christian Klien's meagre three.

2005 saw Webber at Williams F1, and he undoubtedly felt that he had arrived in a team with which he could fulfill his potential. With BMW power propelling the car, he scored a rather healthy thirty-six points, beating team-mate Nick Heidfeld's twenty-eight.

Williams and BMW had a parting of the ways, one consequence of which was that the F1 team had uncompetitive Cosworth engines for 2006. Heidfeld having departed with BMW to Sauber, Webber was partnered by highly-rated Nico Rosberg. Again Webber was the top scorer, beating Rosberg by seven points to four.

In 2007 Webber began his Red Bull Racing career, partnering David Coulthard. In that year Webber was out-scored by his team-mate by fourteen points to ten. But the next year, 2008, Webber crushed him twenty-one points to eight. That was Coulthard's last season as an F1 driver, and his replacement was youthful German driver Sebastian Vettel, eleven years Webber's junior and widely considered to be a brilliant superstar in the making.

In interviews, Webber expressed confidence that he would be able to handle the challenge from the young upstart, and he had every reason to feel up-beat. His talent was well-proven, as was his propensity to defeat team-mates, and he now had seven seasons of F1 experience under his belt. But breaking a leg in a cycling accident during the off-season did not help his preparation, and Vettel's assured grin was an ominous sign there was a crocodile in the pool.

2009 was the year of of the Brawn F1 team's dominance, although Red Bull were now really hitting their stride and pushed them very hard from mid to late season. Webber's day in the F1 sun should finally have arrived, and he did score his first two F1 wins, in Germany and Brazil. But unfortunately for Webber, Vettel took four wins and outscored his team-mate by almost fifteen points.

It was very clear just who was the star of the Red Bull F1 team.

The 2010 season saw the F1 championship slip through Webber's fingers. Scoring five pole positions and four wins, he led the championship table for a period, and started the season finale in Abu Dhabi with a good chance of becoming champion if he had won. But he did not win, Vettel did, and became the youngest ever F1 World Champion.

Now in 2011, and with just one race of the F1 season behind us, Vettel has put down a very convincing marker that he is the man to beat. Some watchers, this writer included, suspect that the pressure of having to compete with the universally-acclaimed and obviously highly talented Vettel has an adverse effect on Webber's track performances.

Possibly with any other team-mate, Webber could put his head down and go for glory. But his nemesis Vettel has established both a racing edge over him and that equally important psychological advantage. All top athletes need to have an understanding of how their mental processes affect their sporting achievements; can Webber now muster the inner strength to reach out and at last grab the glittering prize of an F1 championship?

After a long F1 career, Mark Webber is driving for a team of championship quality, one that offers its drivers real prospects of the sport's highest prize. In that sense, these are his salad days, for it is unlikely that he would again be sought by a top team, time is against him.

It is, I hope, far, far too early to write Mark Webber's F1 career obituary. But it seems awfully easy to sum up his F1 fortunes to date.

Mark Webber: So close, and yet so far away.