Australian racing driver Mark Webber has ended his competitive career with a podium finish in the Porsche #1 car at the season’s last race in Bahrain. One of the classiest drivers ever to sit behind the wheel of a race car, Webber excelled in Formula One competition. His win at the 2009 German grand prix was the first for an Australian driver since Alan Jones did it 30 years earlier. In all. Webber finished first in 9 Formula One races, claimed 13 pole positions, and 42 podium finishes. In 2010, he came within a blink of an eye of the world driving championship.
After the 2013 season, in which had several on track clashes with his Red Bull teammate Sebastien Vettel, Webber left Formula One racing to join the Porsche endurance racing team. In 2015, he and his co-drivers won the prestigious 24 Hours Of LeMans race.
His most famous moment may have come in Valencia in 2010 when he struck the rear of a car driven by Heikki Kovalainen and launched his car into a spectacular 360º barrel roll before crashing heavily into a tire barrier. Like all Aussies, Webber was a fierce competitor on track and a true sportsman off it. While in the middle of a bicycle race in Australia, he swerved to avoid a careless pedestrian and suffered a broken collar bone, which kept him for training for the next racing season and degraded his performance when it began.
Mark Webber had several titanic struggles with the upstart Sebastien Vettel while they were teammates at Red Bull from 2009 to 2013. Vettel would win four world driving championships in a row, thanks to his fondness for shoving Webber off the track when it suited him to do so. (Vettel fans may remember it slightly differently.) The coup de grace came at the Malaysian grand prix in 2013. With Webber leading the race, the Red Bull team issued this instruction to both drivers over their radios. “Multi 21.”
We were to learn later that the message was team code for both drivers to maintain their position on the track. At the time, team orders were forbidden by FIA rules, hence the use of a coded message. Webber continued to drive toward the finish line when Vettel suddenly appeared alongside him, battling furiously for the lead. Surprised, Webber was caught off guard.
Formula One drivers are able to adjust the power of their engines using settings on the steering wheel. Vettel had surreptitiously changed his settings to full power while Webber was in cruise mode, believing that the team had cleared his way to victory. Thus down on power, he was unable to parry Vettel’s attack and wound up second.
Later in the driver’s room, Webber was clearly stunned by Vettel’s perfidious behavior. He kept looking at the smirking Vettel and saying, “Multi 21, Seb. Multi 21.” When the team refused to penalize Vettel for ignoring team orders, Webber’s interest in staying with the team evaporated and he began making plans to look outside Formula One for his future. That’s when the call came from Porsche.
People familiar with Australia know that sports are a big part of the Aussie culture. The concept of the “fair go” is embedded in the Australian psyche. Basically, it means it is OK to fight hard for victory, but cheating and underhanded tactics are considered unworthy of true sportsmen. Clearly, Webber felt that Vettel had breached the rules and many agree with him. Not everyone is unhappy that Vettel is now mired in a noncompetitive Ferrari team and having the much older Kimi Räikkönen beat him regularly in equal cars. Payback is a bitch, Seb.
I hope sometime Mark Webber comes across this post and it makes him smile. He was an inspiration to Formula One fans everywhere and a credit to the long tradition of sportsmanship that is the hallmark of his country. Vettel may have the WDC titles but you have something far more valuable. Mark — the respect of all who followed you on track and off throughout your career. You were a racer’s racer. Good on ya, mate!