Mark Webber: Success better late than never
McLaren
Mark Webber: Success better late than never
Posted By: James Allen  |  21 May 2010   |  11:31 am GMT  |  175 comments

I’ve been thinking about Mark Webber’s recent success and it struck me that ‘older driver makes good’ is such a positive storyline for Formula 1.

In two successive seasons we have seen the phenomenon of drivers in the later stages of their careers finding success; Jenson Button and Mark Webber. Both have seen their careers revitalized when it looked like the sands of time might be starting to run out for them.


What makes it doubly positive is that It hasn’t happened for a while and it goes against the prevailing trend of gilded youth in sport.

In the last decade, F1 has been dominated by drivers who were successful pretty much from the start of their F1 careers, drivers like Alonso, Hamilton, Schumacher and Raikkonen.

F1 has always had drivers who spend the bulk of their careers pushing water uphill in uncompetitive cars. Many never get the wins they were so certain they would have on their way up the ladder. Instead they make up the numbers, picking up the odd podium along the way and then get dumped out of the sport in favour of a younger driver.

Meanwhile the hot young things, the Alonsos, Hamiltons and Vettels, are groomed by driver development programmes, come into F1 in competitive cars and leapfrog the older pros.

Drivers like Button and Webber must have felt that their opportunity would never come. The concept of a ‘long in the tooth’ driver, considered a ‘journeyman’ by many who gets a winning car and suddenly dominates provides a nice counterpoint to the ‘thrilling rookie’ storyline we have become used to.


Webber is reminding me of Nigel Mansell at the moment. Both had obvious speed, but struggled for consistency until one day in their early 30s they were given a competitive car and they went out and made maximum use of it.

Like Webber, Mansell was 32 when he started winning races. He won two races in 1985 and then was a title contender the following year with Williams, only losing out at the final race. Webber looks like he may emulate that pattern and who knows where the story might end? The Red Bull is the fastest car out there and he’s got some real momentum going. It will take a mighty effort by his team mate Vettel or someone like Alonso to get on top of him.


Although quite different characters, Webber and Mansell are both old school racers. They share a warrior spirit and now that Webber has unlocked the secret of dominating a race weekend, locking out pole position and leading from the front in the race, not giving the opposition a chance, he has the chance to emulate Mansell and Button and go on to become a champion.

As with both of those drivers, many people doubted that Webber had it in him to do this. What makes it very interesting is that within Red Bull, certainly the Austrian side of the company, the weight is behind Vettel.

He is the product of the expensive driver development programme, he’s the one with the most pictures on the website and Webber is there to push him hard. If he gets beaten by the ‘journeyman’ what does that say about him and the huge investment in his development programme?

The team said this week that it found some damage on Vettel’s chassis after Monaco, which possibly accounts for him not being on Webber’s pace in the last two races. It must have been subtle damage as Vettel managed to set the fastest lap in the closing stages of the Monaco race.

But psychologically for the team the new chassis is a page turner; there had to be some other reason why he was being beaten by the other guy and now the pressure is really on Vettel to regain the initiative.

He outpaced Webber in Turkey and Silverstone last season and I think the British Grand Prix in particular is set up to be a landmark event, as the Red Bull will be untouchable due to its prowess in fast corners and so we will see a battle for supremacy between these two fine drivers. Vettel got the upper hand last year, if he fails to do so this year the pendulum may stick on Webber’s side.

Vettel is a huge talent and his time will certainly come. This is Webber’s one chance and it looks like he’s figured out how to make the most of it.

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1

I just laugh every time I hear someone so convinced that Webber (or any other driver who hasn’t had an easy ride in F1 for that matter) “clearly” isn’t in the same league as Alosno, Hamilton etc. Where is your proof?!? Do you simply not understand that the machinery has ALWAYS made up AT LEAST 95% of performance and if it were a one-make series all of the experienced drivers would easily be within a tenth of each other?!?! Do you honestly think Hamilton would be a world champ already if he’d had to start his career in a Minardi?! I know you’re going to say, well Alonso did it – but may I remind you that if Webber had listened to Flav (who despite managing both drivers offered WEBBER the Renault drive before Alonso) it would be the Aussie not the Spaniard with 2 world titles already! Fact. Okay now down to business James I agree Silverstone really could be the landmark race this season. But can I remind you that Seb only got the better of Mark there last year because Webber’s final qualifying run was ruined by a completely ignorant and clearly bored Kimi Raikonnen driving as slow as my grandma on the racing line at the end of Hangar Straight. Webber would have won that race and after cleaning up in Germany a week later (with a drive-through) would have been the clear challenger to Button. Remember he scored something like 28 points to Button’s 8 in a very short period mid season and back-to-back wins would have given him the confidence that he has clearly found this year. Vettel seems to me absolutely perplexed by Webber’s pace in the last fortnight but he also knows that if the mirrors were fixed before Malaysia he’d actually be 14 points behind in the standings by now – so should be considering himself pretty lucky. Yes yes Seb has had some bad luck this year but so has Mark – it’s actually been pretty even in that respect. It’s going to be a great fight – I really like both drivers but do hope that Webbo can sneak just 1 title in this year before the kid learns how to set up his own car – it will help him finish some races!! Just please don’t give me any more of this “most boring season ever” crap just because one team is dominating. Webber especially has worked so hard with Adrian Newey developing this car and is now getting his reward!

2
guzel yukselici

Once I read about M. Webber that He is really hard working person and he trains a lot

I think he deserves to be 2010 world Champ. Vettel is good but his time will come as he is very young and talented. Hope Mark will keep his current performance.

And he is a gentleman…

Go go go go go webber…..

3

James,

Are the two Red Bull drivers allowed to ‘Race’ each other?

I seem to remember some early season comments that, on orders from team principals, all racing between the Red Bull drivers stops after the exit from turn 1 of the first lap. Thus, if Webber is ahead of Vettel, he stays there, and vice-versa?

I don’t think I’ve even seen Webber and Vettel get within 1 second of each other once the first-lap shenanigans are over.

4

I believe there are literally only a few tenths of a second seperating the top drivers in terms of raw pace these days. These guys are all super talented and on their day there are at least 10 drivers on the grid who can win. I’ve never really bought into the whole ‘this guy is way better than this guy, this other guy is clearly the best’ talk. A lot of the time what it comes down too is car, conditions, driver form and consistency.

The Red Bull is obviously the class of the field so it’s looking like most of the dry races this season will be contested between their 2 drivers. Webber has had a great run recently, I’m very happy for him, there is still however a slight question mark over his temperment in high pressure situations. Vettel is fast and will surely respond, how Mark deals with the pressure of leading a championship will be critical to his title hopes.

We’re now entering a real crunch point of the championship, as James pointed out Silverstone in particular will be very interesting. If Webber puts one over Vettel there it will have a big psyhcology impact on the young German.

5

Hi James,

I’m unaware that Alonso was part of any driver development program. Did you mean the time when he was the test driver for Renault or was he in another program?

6

I’m unaware too. To the best of my knowledge, very young Alonso went directly from Formula 3000 (Team Astromega) to F1 Minardi, then owned by Australian Paul Stoddart) in 2001. From that ‘competitive’ car he went to other ‘competitive’ car by then, that is Renault in 2002, as a test-driver. In 2003 got a racing seat in Renault, in which he achieved a pole, 4 podiums and won a race, finishing sixth in the WDC with 55 points.

Anyone interested in Alonso’s career may have a short look to it in Wikipedia. The article there devoted to Alonso is peer reviewed and part of WikiProject Formula One (Rated B-Class, Top-importance).

7

I love the Mansell/Webber comparison. Both are quite outspoken (the former more than the other from memory), Williams ex-drivers and pure racers.

It is a great story for the sport. Experience shows – at last – since last year.

It is very early days though. If the RB6 has reliability woes and McLaren wins a couple of races in a Row, then Button or Hamilton will be in the title lead. Let’s wait and see.

8

I think Mark Webber has one of the best chances to claim the title this year. I would like him to win it because as a true patriot, through the years hasn’t had the best of luck in terms of reliability. If he can stay on the podium and be consistent high points finishes he can really do it. Though, that history has shown that his consistency tends to fade away through a course of the season. Perfect example of this is last year where he had just as much of an opportunity then Vettel.Regardless in the outcome it’s been fantastic season thus far, just wish they can bring back the re-fuelling and stop this predictability after a one lap strategy.

9

James, a fine paean to older drivers who finally get their due when the car and timing’s right. Similarly, I’d hoped that this year Heidfeld might finally get the right combination with Ross Brawn and the Mercedes package. Maybe yet…

10

James,
Interesting to read your observation that the Austrian side is firmly behind Vettel. You’re suggesting that the weight of interest might shift if Webber continues to win and leads Vettel….but that weight of interest has already changed. Go back and find the footage of Marko greeting Webber after his breakthrough win in Germany – Helmut was nice enough to stay behind to congratulate Mark – but have a look at the greeting – I think the Guinness Book of records created a new section for “Most uncomfortable Congratulatory Hug” – it was like a human emotional car crash – neither looked like they knew what to do………compare that to Monaco – it looked like father and son.
The tide has already turned – Webber has won that long awaited respect from Marko and that’s very good news for their future.

PS love your work on the intros for One HD – more garage insights please!…and a Helmut Marko interview should be top of the list – someone needs to take Red Bulls’ temperature on MW.

11

I second this for your work on OneHD. Insights before and after commercial breaks would be fab too instead of Rusty and his team babbling away.

Great banner on the website too for the Monaco GP – very cool classic look.

12

James great article to read as a Webber fan!

I would also like to see an interview with Dr Marko on One HD..if he does them!

13

Schumacher’s past it with even Webber being faster, who would have thought it?

In my view, Hamilton, Alonso & Vettel are by far the 3 fastest current F1 drivers and their team-mates will only beat them if there are others factors in play like luck (Button) etc.

In Senna’s day, given equal cars Senna was way better than those around him and Mansell was only at his speed when he had a car advantage, just look at who secured the poles in the days when pole really meant something.

14
Nigel Christian

I’m aware my comment may pale into insignificance but I’ll try anyway.

I’ve got a question! A number of times this season I’ve read and heard reporters and commentators, including yourself, refer to a driver’s number of ‘competitive overtakes’.

Where is this statistic recorded, and more importantly, where can I keep track of it?

15

I think the RBR is the best pairing in the paddock. They match each other very well, and are both strong, confident drivers. That they have, undeniably, the best car in the field now takes them to the front of the grid on qualifying – the best position to be in to win the race. The fact they have both won and both achieved poles just proves how good they are.

Personally I rate Vettel as a better driver, but have supported Webber since well before he actually got an F1 drive – and while Webber isn’t the most skilled/gifted driver in the field, he certainly does have the drive, determination and “Aussie-Grit” he professes to have. Regardless, their time has (finally) come…

I hope Webber can continue to build from here, but I’d reckon the RBR team will duke it out to the end… while the rest of the field plays chasey…

16

Excellent piece James.

I was certainly one of the Webber doubters, and I am loving the fact that I am having to eat my words.

I’ve found myself rooting for him of late. I do so hope he manages to win the championship this season.

But if he does.. that will just make me wonder what might have been if DC had been given this car.

Nice one Mark!

17

Hope Webber wins it, as far as I am aware, the only taxpayer on the grid. It will be interesting to see how Vettel reacts, the pressure is on now, Red bull are going to win it so who is it going to be.

18

I sense a bit of PR spin protecting Vettel’s reputation.

It doesn’t matter whether Vettel has lots of time to win WDCs and Webber hasn’t. If Vettel is outpaced by the Aussie it damages his aura as ‘the next big thing’, the next Schuey. Being German, v. young and having a good personality he is extremely marketable.

I like Vettel and think he’s a fast driver but I just don’t rate him quite as highly as most of the pundits do at the moment. For example the fact he doesn’t go so well at Monaco – THE driver’s track – is a concern… And what’s this about Paul de Resta having the legs of him when they were team-mates…

Like everything about Webber but doen’t see him as WDC – RB don’t want it and there is still a doubt over his consistency for me. Roll on Turkey…

19

James,a very nice article!keep up the superb job

20

Dear James,

you are certainly right about the comparison between Mansell and Webber, but I would disagree that it is only in the last ten years that we have seen drivers come to F1 and be successful almost instantly.

In the 80’s, Ayrton Senna started winning races in his second year. That was simply due to his fantastic quality, not a development program. The same with Allen Prost some years before.

Moreover, of the current young drivers only Hamilton started in a real front-running car. Alonso spent a year in a Minardi and a year as test driver. Vettel spent some time in BMW and Torro Rosso, while Raikonnen started with Sauber.

In addition, Button has just himself to blame for his lack of success in the previous years! He was happy enough with the big money, the publicity, the girls and didn’t really care about the racing… Now he much more serious about his driving, something that the Alonsos and Hamiltons of this world did from day one…

21

It’s funny that Button has 2 wins this year yet there is NO question that he is slower than Hamilton in outright speed. Then Webber wins two races and everyone is questioning Vettel.

The chassis may be the fault and in regards to the Mansell/Prost deal with swapped chassis and resulting speed, in the 90’s when Kocinski was on the 250. Kocinski came in during a rain session and said he needed half a tooth gearing change and Roberts told him to deal with it. Kocinski went out the next session and went two seconds quicker.

Makes you wonder how much of it is ‘in the head’?

22

Lovely piece James – really evokes the imagery of the young chargers, the old knights etc. You’ve very much described how I feel about the season except that I feel – in order to put the finishing touch on the revenge of the older driver – that Schumi needs to get at least a couple of podiums.

23
Steve of Cornubia

As a Brit living in Oz, I laugh at the way most Aussies need only one thing to label any sportsman or woman a ‘great’ or a ‘legend’ – that they are Australian. I also find Webber’s whingeing when things don’t go well a bit unfortunate, given that it is the British who are supposedly the ‘whingeing Poms’.

Having said that, I have secretly (don’t want my Aussie friends getting all excited) admired Mark for some time, not because of his driving, which I think is at least as good as Vettel’s (overrated) but because he is one of few F1 drivers with an actual personality.

In fact, my wife once asked: if I could have dinner with any of the current F1 drivers, who would I choose? I picked Webber because I imagined he would be the only one who would ‘tell it like it is’ and whose ego wouldn’t cast a shadow over the whole dinner table.

Goodonya Mark. Hope you win the title this year.

24

Steve,

Not sure what you’re referring to regarding Webber Whinging as nearly everyone in this post has agreed he’s a straight shooter who tells it like it is as you have also pointed out………….

Mind you if we were to be a Whinger that would be the Brit influence coming out from residing in the UK !

Australians are proud to be Australian and so cheer on our sports men and women, do you have a problem with that ? We are only a small population and to even have a representative in a sport as elitist (numbers on the grid) as F1 is something to cheer about. I’m sure Karun Chandhok fans in India would agree.

25

i agree with everyhing you wrote james,

at the start of the season i got a few telephone calls from friends asking who i’d be betting on for the world championship this year. when i took a look at the odds i told everyone mark webber was my horse!

i think pretty much any driver that is in formula 1 is world class and given the proper car they will dominate. you cant take much away from any of them.

take jacques villeneuve for example..

when he came into formula 1 off the back of cart champion and indy 500 winner in america. he stepped into a dominating williams imo was unlucky not to be world champion in is rookie season. he had to wait to the following season and then departed with williams and became forgotten and hated on by just about anyone.

it all comes down the car!

26

I agree Jeremy, and Villeneuve was really exciting those first 2 years… Estoril 96 always sticks in my mind when I think of him.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mp37Rl2J_fg

27
Boston F1 Fan

– I also like that Webber is very candid. He’s not like the rest of the sanitized, mechanical F1 drivers. I remember an interview with him on Formula1.com which asked if he liked the Valencia street circuit. Instead of answering the typical “I love it; I love the food, the culture, the people, it’s a fantastic track and they have done a fantastic job” he simply replied “No”.

28

Good post james. As your old mate mark hugues has said before the 2003 and 2004 jaguars were never worthy of front row starts. Same goes for the 06 williams which never deserted the fuel pole at monaco. Mark has clear speed and determination. Its good to finally see some success!

29
Bjorn schultheiss

Great to see Mark keeping Sebastian honest.

I don’t think the majority want to see Seb run away with the title.

If Mark has what it takes to win, good luck to him, he deserves.

You don’t find yourself in a position like his by chance.

30
Jose Arellano

didnt vettel was in bmw driver development?

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