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Friday, July 20, 2018

Mark Webber – In the shadow of the ‘kid’

Red Bull driver Mark Webber's legacy is safe,even if it's not quite to his liking.

Written by Daksh Panwar | Greater Noida | Published: October 25, 2013 3:12:03 am

It’s an anecdote you may probably be aware of. But it can be revisited. It has,after all,unfolded in front of Mark Webber so frequently that it could be the story of his eventful F1 career,which will come to an end this season after 11 years.

After five years of underachievement,the Australian,rated as one of the most gifted but unlucky drivers on the grid,finally looked poised to end the drought during the rain-drenched 2007 Japanese Grand Prix as he closed in on race leader Lewis Hamilton. Having qualified eighth,Webber worked his way up,his cause helped by a few crashes,but a churning stomach made the Red Bull driver throw up in his helmet. Nevertheless,he soldiered on and at the start of the last third was running second.

But just as the top step of the podium,after just two third-place finishes to show for in 100 previous starts,looked imminent,a young Toro Rosso driver,in a suicidal move,crashed into him. Both cars out of the race.

“It’s kids,isn’t it? Kids with not enough experience,doing a good job,then they f*** it all up,” said Webber laying into the 19-year-old driver. That overzealous ‘kid’ was Sebastian Vettel.

Teammates and rivals

Webber had to wait two more years for his maiden win,and while the Aussie went on to replicate it on a number of occasions,he never could get rid of Vettel. They became teammates in 2009 and Vettel was to overshadow Webber for the next four years. The Australian missed out on the 2010 title on the final day as the German sensationally lifted the first of his three back-to-back titles.

Webber never came close again. To be fair,few did.

Curiously,Webber and Vettel,despite being teammates — or perhaps because of it — perfectly represent the rest of the grid vis-a-vis Red Bull,respectively. The latter’s domination has been complete,the former’s desperation,despite all efforts,utter.

“Obviously he had an incredible run,” Webber said of Vettel on Thursday. “Some of the championships have been tight,but 2011 and this year have been pretty much a non-event. He has won with a dominant car,but also he has won with a car which in some races is probably not. Over those four years to win races he probably shouldn’t have won,that has also been a quality of Seb’s.”

One such race was this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix. At the end of the 44th lap,Webber was leading but barely as Vettel was snapping at his heels. After some breathtaking but risky manoeuvres,Vettel,asked by the team to back off but defying the ‘orders’ all the same,overtook Webber.

A half-hearted ‘explanation’ by Vettel,which was never an apology,added to Webber’s belief that the he was clearly the No.2. Two months later,he announced his retirement. It’s not the end of his time in the fast lane,however. Webber will ply his trade in Le Mans 24 hours and the FIA World Endurance Championship. At 37,the racing juices are still flowing,as he amply demonstrated in the last race in Suzuka,where he took pole and finished second behind Vettel. But with only four races left in his career,the desire to go out on a high is stronger than ever.

“My mentality hasn’t changed,mate,from the start of the year. Still enjoying driving the car. The fact that there are just four races left isn’t really changing how I go about it. It will be nice to get a top result before the year’s out but yeah… it will be four weeks and that’s it.

“If I don’t get one more win,it won’t change my view of F1 and how I remember the sport. I would’ve never thought when I left Australia the results and the career that I have had. So,another win or so would of course be nice,but it won’t change anything.”

Webber’s legacy is safe,even if it’s not quite to his liking. In an unfair sport,he will be remembered as a driver who,competing on an almost even keel,helped us gauge just how good Vettel was. And he himself was bloody good.

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