Friday, June 28, 2013

Engine Blood: Special "Holy Cow, Something's Actually Happened" Edition

Engine Blood presents- "Mark Webber: We Hardly Knew Ye (And We Barely Cared)"

Yes, another long-running Engine Blood joke will bite the dust along with the career of Formula One's only Canberra Milk Kid at the end of the season, leaving us to ask the only remaining question: why now? 

Why not last season?

* Let's be fair though: Mark did more than enough to merit inclusion in the elite class of open-wheeled racing.  Through the well trodden path of karting > get the hell out of Australia and over to Europe > Formula 3 > Le Mans, he was rewarded some F1 testing and, more dubiously but definitely advantageously, a management contract with Flavio Briatore, F1's answer to Silvio Berlusconi.

Being parachuted into Minardi during their partially Ecclestone-funded years of propping up the grid, Mark achieved that rarely seen feat of scoring in his first ever Grand Prix, sweetened further by it being in his home country of New Zealand [CITATION NEEDED].  After a predictably pointless rest of the year - not his fault, the Minardis of that time were exceedingly rubbish - he jumped to a big name manufacturer at the end of the year!

* Sadly that big name was Jaguar, perhaps the floppiest of the floppy manufacturer team, and could only take consolation from his domination of his team-mates Antonio Pizzonia, Justin Wilson and Christian Klien - three names I don't think any of us have heard in a fair while, but establishing yourself as number one in your team is still a crucial step for a young driver.  We will be pointedly re-examining this assertion in a short while.

From 2005 he called Williams home, and this is where his hard racing (read: unwillingness to give an inch) started getting him noticed by the wider public (read: got him a reputation as a shunter).  In his first year he did just pip his team-mate Nick Heidfeld, but it was Heidfeld who got the more eye-catching results, with a pole position and a pair of second places, and also missed the last three races through injury.  Mark was partnered with a debuting Nico Rosberg in 2006, but it was a bit of miserable year for the team and Mark was soon moving on to pastures...

* ...old.  For you see, in his final team move ever by the looks of it, he went to Red Bull, who had bought out Jaguar not long after Webber had moved to Williams.  To the surprise of most, they had not been terrible, but lacked a second driver talented enough to challenge the by-then decidedly mediocre David Coulthard.  Webber was a good fit and could seemingly inherit the number one status once Red Bull got themselves sorted out.

Mark was doing a good job with the technology he was given, but two things changed in short order: number one, Sebastian Vettel won the 2008 Italian GP for Red Bull's sister team, Toro Rosso (who, just to bring things full circle, were once Minardi), and therefore earned a call-up to Red Bull in 2009 when Coulthard shuffled off to the commentary box.

Then we had 2009: the crazy season.  2008 ended with Ferrari's Felipe Massa and McLaren's Lewis Hamilton in a pitched battle for the title, but due to a raft of rule changes the order was given its biggest shake-up for years, and Red Bull suddenly found themselves as the only team able to get near to the dominant Brawn GP.  Webber took his first two wins, but Vettel doubled that and finished two places ahead of him in the championship.  Red Bull claim not to play favourites, but that very much smacks of the kind of dominance that establishes a number one driver.

For those of you snoozing at the back: this would be a good time to pointedly re-examine the assertion that establishing yourself as number one in your team is a crucial step for a young driver.

* And so we come to both the greatest high and dowdiest low of Webbo's career - the 2010 season.  Never in living memory had there been such a platform for a driver to be viewed upon, and with the generally held opinion that four teams and as many as nine drivers would be battling for the top honours, along with the extra interest generated by Michael Schumacher's return (oh shut up - you know it's true), this was a big deal.

In all the hubbub, it's probably fair to say that Webber (along perhaps with Rosberg) was the one of that elite group of whom the least was expected, but with three races to go it looked to be his to lose - which he duly did.  Poor results let not just the ever-present Fernando Alonso in his Ferrari back into the picture, but also Hamilton and, most disastrously for Webber, his own team-mate, who only went and won the bloody thing at the last race, whilst Alonso and Webber stared disconsolately at the back of slower cars that they just could not overtake on the potential-free Yas Marina circuit.

* Having finished third for two seasons in a row, last season saw Mark hit only 6th place, again in the same team that produced the World Drivers' Champion.  Despite rumours that Ferrari were again planning to show Massa the door, he stayed at Red Bull, and with fresh evidence that Vettel rules that team with an iron fist, he's off to the FIA World Endurance Championship next year.

He will leave behind him an odd little legacy, reminiscent of Rubens Barrichello, Riccardo Patrese or Gerhard Berger - always capable of a win, and good at abetting a world champion, but never having been able to put their stamp on a season of their own.  We won't yet speculate about a replacement - seriously, Raikkonen?  What could go RIGHT with that one? - as we're too busy trying to find another clip of a driver humiliating himself for profit that we can trot out when we've run out of jokes.  That'll be every week, then.

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