The Man in the Shadow
Team: Red Bull Racing World Champ Titles: 0 GP wins: 9 Pole positions: 10
When the British public was eyeing hopefully their three “home” drivers and watching them disappoint one after another, there was a fourth driver on the grid who certainly had all the rights to call this track a home; and he was the one to stand on the highest podium at Silverstone.
Unmistakably Australian, Mark Webber has lived for several years in Aston Clinton, Buckinghamshire, a short drive from the British GP circuit. This makes a difference from the majority of F1 drivers, who relocated to the likes of Monaco or Switzerland, but Mark claims that this area provides all the training facilities he might need, alongside a steady family life.
But no wonder Mark’s present situation makes him content, considering the difficult path he had to go down to get to the top three of the World Championship leader board. Finding it hard to tie ends financially in his early career years, with the help of some friends he progressed through different Formulas to finally break into F1 in 2002 with Minardi. Then he struggled for points in Jaguar Racing, Williams and his first two seasons in Red Bull before winning his first race in Germany in 2009. He was an RBR star of 2010, having won four races – or, he would have been, if not outshone by his team-mate, and that year title winner, Sebastian Vettel.
Silverstone probably means to Mark more than to any other driver of the season, including the three Brits. It is here where he won the first ever pole for Red Bull, who are also stationed nearby (Milton Keynes); and it is one of the few places where he ended up on the highest podium for a second time. Although always quiet and modest, he is the team’s money-making machine: with consistent driving he provides a steady flow of points which sees the Red Bull team on top of the Constructors’ Championship for the third year running, and himself up for a third consecutive podium finish of the season.
No wonder then that the talks about Mark’s possible move to Ferrari have been the hot topic of the weekend. In fact, both RBR drivers have been reported to be considered by the Italian team as a potential substitute to the struggling Felipe Massa, with Fernando Alonso claiming he wouldn’t mind competing together with Sebastian – and that would surely also apply to his long-time friend, Mark Webber.
For Mark it would be a difficult decision; he had to make a similar choice in the past, which cost him a potential Championship title. When leaving the under-performing Jaguar in 2004 he had an open door to Williams and to Renault, but not wanting to drive in Alonso’s shadow, he opted for the former, and regretted this token of trust for a visibly less competitive team.
They say that history likes to repeat itself, and Mark will surely want to weigh carefully all the pros and cons of a transfer. In the last few races Ferrari has upped its game, becoming more of a competition to Red Bull, and the Silverstone race has been a great test of power between these two senior drivers. Mark suggests that Fernando is the man to beat this season, and surely the Spaniard is keeping a close eye on the Aussie, who is stepping on his heals, with only 13 points separating him from taking over the leader title.
With 11 races to go the 2012 Championship is developing into a thrilling spectacle of power and skill between the two friendly rivals; but the question of driver transfers can make the following seasons even more interesting: will Mark Webber become the Champion in his own right, or will he keep coming second, in the shadow of his team-mates?
UPDATE 10/7: Mark has extended his rolling contract with Red Bull for the 2013 season. He believed it was the most logical decision to stay with the team he knew very well and with whom he was on top form. The team principal, Christian Horner appreciated Mark’s decision to stay with Red Bull recognising his input into the success of the team.