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Ingram: Webber Thumbs Nose At Red Bull

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 16 2010

In a typically star-crossed career move, Mark Webber joined Frank Williams' Formula One team just as it began to decline.

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Mark Webber has made a career of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. My first recollection of the rock-ribbed Aussie was at Le Mans in 1999 as the 22-year-old crawled from underneath his overturned Mercedes on the Mulsanne during the morning warm-up. “Oh,” I thought, “so that’s the guy who flipped his CLR during qualifying – and crashed at 190 mph in pre-qualifying.”

As it turned out, Peter Dumbreck ended up flying and flipping into the woods during the 24-hour race later that evening after Mercedes elected to continue with a very suspect car. Webber ended up in Mercedes’ woodshed for having demonstrated the design weakness of the CLR and then telling the team he wasn’t about to climb back in it and race after escaping serious injury three times.

Never one to be shy, it now doesn’t seem surprising that Webber would dismiss his own team after winning the British Grand Prix on Sunday,  sarcastically telling his Red Bull Racing crew, “Not bad for a number two driver.” Given his treatment by the team prior to qualifying and the race, Webber’s lack of graciousness was understandable.

There is an unperturbed confidence about Webber in all circumstances, a situation underscored by his victory at Silverstone a fortnight after his frightening, sky-writing flyer at Valencia. The strong-jawed driver has always needed that confidence as well as his predictable determination and quickness in the cockpit.

Having bravely started his F1 career at lowly Minardi in 2002 in Melbourne, where he scored a fifth place at his home race in his debut in the world championship, Webber then migrated to Jaguar for two dismal seasons, where he managed four sixth-place finishes with the team that never really got out of the gate. His wrong place, wrong time scenario continued at Williams, where in Webber’s first season the great Grand Prix team failed to win a race, beginning a losing streak that still continues after 113 victories.

Webber helped usher out the recently reborn Cosworth era in 2006 at Williams as a teammate to Nico Rosberg. Generally, Webber was praised for his quickness and panned a bit when his determination came across as desperation or a lack of racecraft. Moving into Red Bull just in time for the Adrian Newey era, it appeared that Webber might finally be in the right place at the right time even though he scored just 10 points in 2007.

By the end of 2008, Webber had left teammate David Coulthard in arrears on the all-jaw team featuring two intense drivers with squared-off chins. With a new RB5 from Newey on the way, it appeared Webber was on his way until he got hit by a car while bicycling on a highway in Australia during his own charity event in November of 2008, which broke his lower right leg in two places. From the beginning of that downturn in luck, Webber, who could anticipate the potential of Newey’s newest car, said he would be back in the cockpit despite the injury – and was.

Webber scored his first two career wins in 2009 after an arduous rehabilitation program and guess what? His young German teammate won four and finished runner-up in the points, establishing Sebastian Vettel as the favourite to win a championship for Red Bull in 2010. Nothing could have underscored the younger driver’s status on the team owned by Austrian energy drink magnate Dieter Mateschitz than the events at Silverstone.

It was never quite clear whether Vettel’s own driving during the Saturday morning practice ruined his newly re-designed front nose, or whether its mounting failed. But the call came from Austria to take the only other new nose off Webber’s car and hand it over to Vettel’s RB6. What happened on Sunday is likely to become folk legend in Australia along the lines of a four-wheeled Crocodile Dundee.

With pluck and resolve, two of Australia’s greatest natural resources, Webber’s slate-cleaning victory over pole winner Vettel and the rest of the field was nothing short of heroic. Well, actually it fell a little shy. Moral righteousness has its drawbacks because it is motivation from a wellspring of pain. Webber duly smacked his team over the head in retribution once it was over, knowing all along that it was orders from on high that did him in.

Perhaps Herr Mateschitz is smarter than might appear and the team owner was priming both his drivers in their pursuit of McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button by ordering the switch of the “trick” nose, whose benefits were slender at best. Certainly, anyone who has observed Webber over the years could have predicted that he would respond well to adversity.

Vettel has now been confirmed as the chosen one by everybody, it seems, except Webber. Maybe that’s what the young German needs for motivation. But is the tension within the team worth the benefits?

Webber may find it difficult to top his display at Silverstone – sort of a Red Bull replay of race steward Nigel Mansell’s historic win for Williams aboard Red 5 at the ancient airfield circuit in 1992.

There is the prospect of a world championship beckoning with the season only at halfway. Given Webber’s everyman circumstances that are increasingly reminiscent of Mansell and a sometimes reckless driving style that also recalls the driver of Red 5, there’s the feeling of a groundswell of support on behalf of the Australian when it comes to the points.

A glance back at history would surely suggest placing one’s bets elsewhere. And that’s just the tug and pull, isn’t it?

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jonathan@racintoday.com

Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, July 16 2010
2 Comments

2 Comments »

  • F1Dude says:

    Jonathan – Do more Formula 1 stories. We fans are out here. This was a great story.

  • Erinnyn says:

    Great article! As a newer F1 fan, I wasn’t aware of all the details of Webber’s past and admire him even more now. I love the Red Bull team and would be happy with a victory by either driver. I think both Webber and Vettel are fantastic. Webber certainly must have a burning hunger for the win, though. Both guys are so competitive that the atmosphere at RBR must be in high gear always — not a bad atmosphere to have in a sport like F1! I am eagerly looking forward to seeing how the rest of 2010 plays out. Keep up the great driving, W and V! Go Red Bull!