Mark Webber will be remembered among the greatest Formula One drivers never to win a world championship.
The Australian competed in 215 Grand Prix during a decorated 11-year career, steering to nine wins, which puts him 34th on the list of all-time victories, while he graced the podium on 42 occasions.
He can be mentioned in the same breath as other greats never to have won the pinnacle of motorsport’s biggest prize such as Stirling Moss, Carlos Reutemann, Gilles Villeneuve, Gerhard Berger and Riccardo Patrese, as well as modern icons David Coulthard, Rubens Barrichello and Felipe Massa.
Webber’s F1 career will largely be remembered for his rivalry with Sebastian Vettel, his long time Red Bull stablemate who won four consecutive drivers’ titles from 2010-13. Vettel featured heavily in Webber’s autobiography: ‘Aussie Grit: My Formula One Journey’, published last September.
Webber says his relationship with the German started to slide as early as the 2009 season when the Aussie beat him at the Turkish Grand Prix, claiming Vettel’s “arrogance” wouldn’t allow him to entertain the thought that Webber was simply quicker than him.
Webber went to see Vettel before his book came out and explains the relationship between them now is “very good”.
“We don’t see each other a lot but it’s much more relaxed because we were obviously at each other’s throats for a long time there,” the 39-year-old told Sport360. “It was important for me to see certain people before the book came out. Of course I went to see Sebastian. We had a really long chat about it.
“I said I would like to do this book just because it gives people a really good education about what’s involved in F1, for a guy to leave Australia and try to get through over there.
“When you look back through you realise and remember that happened, you go through the archive and learn a lot about yourself, because you forget a lot of things you do, so that was really refreshing.
“I wanted to be open, honest, sometimes hard on myself, real and I want the book to date well. I want it to be relative in 10-15 years and tell people that’s what went on.
“At the end he got the upper hand. He had a great window and he drove exceptionally well and got better results and it was as simple as that, but now it’s absolutely fine.
“Ultimately there will be more layers to come and I’m not looking for a relationship. It will be what it will be but as you get older there will be more layers to letting that tension go and probably one night it will be all over, in a good way, but now it’s pretty good. The respect is pretty high.”
It might be rosy now, but the friction between the two at Red Bull made for one of the most prickly partnerships in the history of the sport. It was a relationship that deteriorated after they became the two protagonists at the centre of one of F1’s most captivating chapters – the race for the 2010 title.
Webber finished third – he would occupy the final place on the podium in three seasons in all – and it was all downhill from there. It was epitomised by 2013’s infamous ‘Multi 21’ incident at the Malaysian Grand Prix, where Vettel ignored a team order and passed Webber to earn the chequered flag.
Vettel’s brilliance was undoubtedly the main reason why Webber was never able to hoist the championship aloft, although he feels there’s a theory that his lack of silverware points to a lack of happiness.
“A lot of people think I really didn’t enjoy all the time at Red Bull, but Formula One was an incredible journey for me,” he said. “I had a generally sensational experience at that level. Racing week-in, week-out against those guys was a dream.”
Vettel’s streak at Red Bull equalled the great Juan Manuel Fangio’s four consecutive titles between 1954-57, but cannot rival Vettel’s fellow German, Michael Schumacher, who won five in a row at Ferrari between 2000-04.
Vettel followed in Schumacher’s footsteps by joining Ferrari last season and Webber was impressed by a debut campaign which yielded three race wins in the shadow of the dominant Mercedes.
If anyone can stop the duo of Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg, who finished 103 and 44 points respectively ahead of Vettel last season, in 2016, it is the four-time champion, according to Webber.
“You can never rule him out. He’s so consistent, so it depends on how strong the package is,” said Webber. “Ability will be very important of course but he’s in pole position to tip the apple cart over I would say. In terms of last season with Ferrari he got some wins and when Fernando (Alonso) was there it would have been at least one deserved championship for Ferrari, so let’s see how it goes.”
Webber was in Abu Dhabi last month, testing tyres for current employers Porsche at Yas Marina Circuit ahead of the new World Endurance Championship season on April 17 at Silverstone.
At the famous German marque he achieved something he was never able to in F1, winning a world title, claiming the 2015 WEC alongside German Timo Bernhard and New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley.
Webber admits Porsche approached him when they announced they were re-entering competitive motorsport in 2013, although he delayed accepting for one more year in F1.
“Nothing’s forever and you have to look at the next scenario on the radar,” added Webber. “Wolfgang Hatz (head of Porsche’s research and development) approached me and said we’re going back into LMP1 and we’d love you to come across when you have the opportunity.
“I wanted to stay a bit longer in F1, but at 40 F1 is not for you. Here, there’s no driver that would not want to drive for this programme. For sure Sebastian and Fernando are happy where they are now, there’s still lots to do in F1, but half that grid would quite like this job, and it’s the best thing for me now.”
WEC, of course, lacks the mass appeal and the glamour of F1 but Webber has no regrets about moving on at this stage of his life.
He added: “Ages 20-36 was F1, now it’s a different situation, but this brand, you see how powerful it is when you get inside and you see how big and how global it is. I enjoy representing Porsche as best I can.”
As for the future of F1? Hamilton, Rosberg and Mercedes will have to be wary of the threat of Vettel in the short term, but Webber is excited about the prospect of Max Verstappen one day challenging for the title.
“Skill wise he’s kicking some massive goals,” Webber said of the 18-year-old, who finished 12th in his debut season with Torro Rosso last year, finishing a high of fourth in two races. “He’s got a lot of raw, natural flair, mind management and composure in the car. He’s very relaxed in that environment.
“What he has to focus on in the next two-three years is the resources side. He won’t know how much he has to do in the next seven years to get the most out of it. The good guys drop the ego and say ‘Ok, how can I get better?’. Go to someone for help, say ‘I’m not good enough’.
“When you have that much talent it’s easy to have a few years where you get a bit blasé. ‘Oh it’ll be alright next year’. The clock ticks fast so don’t get too blasé with opportunities. But I’m looking forward to seeing him in the next few years what’s coming. Put him in a top car and he’ll be looking pretty mustard and will be a world champion.”
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