Just a few hours ago, Mark Alan Webber finished his final ever Formula 1 race, taking his Red Bull Racing RB9 to a second place finish at a circuit where he had twice won in 2009 and 2011. As a fan who has closely watched Webber’s career from 2009 to now (a late comer, I know!) it was sad to consider that his unique perspective would be out of the sport.
Webber, however, showed no such sentimentality but that’s to be expected. He’s always been driven of purpose and intent, and as he explained this weekend there’s a point at which age conspires to slow drivers down. Better to leave on a high than wallow at the back of the field, which Webber has done (he will join Porsche for the 2014 World Endurance Championship, driving LMP series cars at races like Le Mans 24hrs).
Webber was the first Australian since Alan Jones to score points in Formula 1, which also made him the first Australian to get on the podium (which he would do 42 times in total); take pole position (he would go on to take 13 poles in total, breaking Jones’ record), and win races (he won 9 in total in the 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons). He lead the 2010 championship for a time and that was realistically the only shot he had at winning it – sadly for him, he’s been paired with Sebastian Vettel who is frankly in a class of his own in terms of raw speed, pace, and ability.
Much has been said and speculated about that partnership and I don’t think I can add anything here. I’d probably say that the perceptions of bias have some basis in reality but only a little – the rest of it is simply rivalry between fans of two competitive camps (“team Webber” and “team Vettel”). Suffice to say that for the perennially unlucky Mark Webber, reaching the peak of his form at the same time Vettel came into the sport and dominated is simply business as usual. Vettel is a generational talent.
For Webber, though, he seems to have recognised at least that Vettel is simply in a world of his own and beating him is a task nobody on the grid could have done. People say they want to see Alonso, Kimi or Hamilton in that car but the reality is Webber’s no slouch and he’s not been able to match that pace. It’s a fantasy that suggest the RB-chassis cars are somehow the main driver for results; they’re not. The drivers are.
In his last race, Webber stood on the podium along side what he called the best driving talent of his generation – Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso and Vettel. To end your F1 career in that company is nothing to be ashamed of. Looking back at 215 races, 40+ podium and wins at Monaco, Silverstone, the Nurburgring and Interlagos – you could only be proud. Look at your career as an ambassador for Australia in a sport that’s difficult for Australians to break into? That’s something more entirely.
One thing is assured; I’ll be watching a lot more endurance racing next year.