Rather fitting for this Easter weekend we are going to look at someone whose F1 career has (in a very loose and contrived way to suit the timing of this piece) followed the path of the alleged son of God, rising and falling before a resurrection.
When Webber made his F1 debut at the Australian Grand Prix in 2002 he was probably best known for his double backflip in a Mercedes at Le Mans in 1998 – I remember seeing it as it happened and I was amazed and relieved that some guy I’d never heard of wasn’t killed. Webber lit up Melbourne by finishing fifth in an extremely uncompetitive Minardi and the whole World sat up and took note.
When he joined Jaguar Racing for 2003 I was really happy that this exciting young driver had joined the team bearing the name of one of my favourite car manufacturers. Unfortunately for Mark, Jaguar and the fans, Ford never really got to grips with owning their team and Jaguar as a team underperformed, some would say tarnishing the Jaguar brand as it failed. But Mark never gave up, qualifying the car on the second and third rows of the grid on several occasions.
When Ford sold the Jaguar team to energy drink manufacturer Red Bull in late 2004, Webber jumped ship and signed up to the legendary Williams F1 Team for 2005. Sadly this was the start of a barren period for the previously dominant team and after two season of underperformance from the team, Webber announced that he would be heading back to Milton Keynes to drive for Red Bull Racing.
I must confess that it was during his time at Williams that I started to doubt Webber, and whether he still had that killer instinct. Looking back, I wonder if it was more to do with my love of the Williams Team clouding my judgement.
Since the move to Red Bull, I guess you could say I’ve been quite critical of Mark. Again, possibly feeling bitter about him leaving Williams for what was, at the time, basically a ‘party’ team that drew in all the celebrities, tried too hard to be cool and made a lot of noise without doing much, but also I think due to the amount of negativity that seemed to surround him, he never seemed happy.
This came to a head last year for me when in Korea last season he kept saying it was too wet to start the race, they should red flag the race lap after lap as they crawled around behind the safety car. Other drivers – most notably Webber’s championship rival, Lewis Hamilton – were calling for the race to begin. I’ve always felt that if a driver thinks it’s too wet or dangerous to race he should pull in to the pits and retire and let those who want to race race.
I was in two minds about how he handled the ‘favouritism’ row. On one hand I can understand his frustration at how things seemed to look last year, and I do like it when drivers speak their mind, but I also understand that sometimes bringing these things into the public eye – where there was already controversy surrounding Red Bull’s decisions – is not good for the team, in both morale and publicity.
So yes, when it became clear that Button wasn’t going to retain his title, or Hamilton to claim his second title. I was actually cheering for Alonso, now that may seem strange considering that Alonso has a tendency to have a whinge, and has been, directly and indirectly, involved in two seperate incidents of cheating, but he is above all else a fantastic driver, something that has been missing from Webber in recent years if you ask me.
So to the main point of me writing this, the last two races. Webber has been having problems with his car, moreso yet again than his German teammate, and yet in the Malaysian and especially the Chinese races he has shown us the old Webber, the man who can and will pass anyone to get ahead. Making move after move, being the main focus point in already exciting races. This is the Mark Webber that has been missing from F1 in the last few seasons and it is great to see him back.
I have refound my respect for Webber and I hope he continues to excite, and excel, in F1 for sometime yet.