Mark Webber’s 2008 season: an analysis

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Mark Webber began 2008 strongly but faded throughout the year
Mark Webber began 2008 strongly but faded throughout the year

Guest writer Andrew Tsvyk turns his analytical eye on Mark Webber’s performance at Red Bull in 2008 – and asks how he might fare alongside Sebastian Vettel in 2009.

Mark Webber is an enigma for me. The Australian has outclassed every team-mate fate threw at him during his tenure in Formula 1 but, nevertheless, failed to produce a stir results-wise. Let’s take a look at how he performed in 2008.

Having impressed during his debut season for Minardi in 2002, Webber moved up the career ladder and found himself at the wheel of a Jaguar in the following year. During this time he became widely recognized as one of the sport?s best qualifiers, capable of pushing mediocre machinery to the sharp end of the starting grid.

Sir Frank Williams was impressed; after all, the driver who brought him his first world title, Alan Jones, was from down under, too. Unfortunately, the relationship between Webbo and the Williams team was not a success. Webber returned to the ex-Jaguar team, which during his absence had become Red Bull Racing??

This year was Webber?s second consecutive season with the Milton Keynes-based outfit. He scored a total of 21 points, which put him 11th in the final drivers? standings.

Out of 18 Grands Prix, the Australian finished in the top eight on eight occasions, beating such drivers as Nelson Piquet Jnr and Timo Glock who, arguably, had better cars. Outgoing team mate, David Coulthard, finished in the top eight only twice, so the blame for Red-Bull Renault?s dismal performance in the constructors? championship probably rests on the Scot?s shoulders.

In this article I shall try to take a closer look at Webber?s seventh F1 season, which started on March, 16 in Melbourne, Australia.

Round 1. The Australian Grand Prix

The season started with Mark Webber?s home Grand Prix, held at the beautiful Albert Park Circuit in Melbourne. And as has often been the case in recent years, Webber?s season got off to a disappointing start.

Despite making it through to the second part of qualifying, the Australian was unable to complete a flying lap due to brake problems. This left him 15th on the starting grid. But worse awaited the Red-Bull driver the following day. The 2008 Australian Grand Prix was one of the shortest in Webber?s career, as his race was over in turn three as a result of a multiple-car incident.

Grid: 15th
Race: DNF

Round 2. The Malaysian Grand Prix

Webber kept Hamilton at bay for many laps in Sepang
Webber kept Hamilton at bay for many laps in Sepang

After a slow start to the season in Australia, Webber managed to open his points account at the Sepang Circuit. Friday practice resulted in a scare for the Red Bull organization as David Coulthard had a crash in turn 12 as a result of a suspension failure. The FIA was not impressed and threatened to exclude the team from the event on safety grounds. Luckily, Red Bull?s staff managed to provide evidence there were no faults in the suspension design.

Webber managed to reward the team for their efforts, putting the RB4 in eighth in qualifying. On Sunday he made a sensational start and was running fourth at the end of lap one. Webber held onto that spot until his first pit stop on lap 16. After the first series of stops for tyres and fuel the Red Bull driver was running in tenth spot, just ahead of Lewis Hamilton, the world championship leader, who spent many laps unable to overtake the Red Bull. However, keeping Hamilton at bay proved impossible for Webber and he slipped to seventh, scoring two points.

Grid: 6th
Race: 7th

Round 3. The Bahrain Grand Prix

Webber had another strong race at the Sakhir International Circuit, the venue for the fifth annual Grand Prix of Bahrain. Despite missing out Q3 by a tiny margin, the Australian had a great start, profiting from the problems of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton.

The Red Bull driver spent the rest of the race inside the top eight, battling with the likes of Nico Rosberg and Jarno Trulli. In the closing stages of the Grand Prix Webber managed to pass Rosberg, but Trulli proved a tougher nut to crack. Webber had to be content with seventh place, but it meant two more points.

Grid: 11th
Race: 7th

Round 4. The Spanish Grand Prix

During winter testing the Red Bull cars topped the time sheets on more than one occasion at the Circuit de Catalunya; therefore, nobody was really surprised to see Webber having another solid qualifying performance.

The experienced Australian racer also managed to transform his good starting position into a strong result in the race. Taking advantage from the misfortunes of Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen, Mark made it home in fifth spot, his best result at that point of the season.

Grid: 7th
Race: 5th

Round 5. The Turkish Grand Prix

Webber?s string of points finishes continued at Istanbul Speed Park. Following a sixth spot in qualifying session, he added another two points to his already impressive tally. The start of the race was quite eventful, as he came under attack from Fernando Alonso. The rest of the Grand Prix proved to be less action-packed, but the Australian managed to hang on to a place inside the top-eight.

Grid: 6th
Race: 7th

Round 6. The Monaco Grand Prix

The 2008 edition of world?s most famous Grand Prix saw the first wet race at the principality in 12 years. Webber grabbed ninth spot on the starting grid, maximising his chances of getting a good result.

The race on Sunday was run under adverse conditions and saw many crashes. But, unlike his team-mate, David Coulthard, and the Toro Rosso driver, Sebastian Bourdais, Webber managed to stay out of trouble. Unfortunately, he did tap Alonso, near the Mirabeau corner, after the Renault driver had misjudged an attempt to pass Nick Heidfeld. But this was not Webber?s fault, as the Mirabeau complex is so tight he had nowhere to go.

Apart from that, the Red Bull driver drove flawlessly throughout the entire race and profited from Kimi Raikkonen and Adrian Sutil?s collision with just a few laps to go to record his best finish of the season.

Grid: 9th
Race: 4th

Round 7. The Canadian Grand Prix

Mark Webber ??s qualifying session in Montreal was cut short when he lost control of his Red Bull in Q3 on the crumbling track surface. Nevertheless, Webber started from the top ten and was mixing it at the front of the field following several safety car interventions. Unfortunately, his two stop strategy proved to be inadequate for a race full of safety car periods and his series of top-eight finishes came to an end.

Unlike Webber, team mate Coulthard used the chaos to his advantage. Coulthard earned his first points of the season by finishing third. The result would mark Coulthard?s last podium in Formula 1, and he soon announced his retirement from the sport following the end of the 2008 season.

Grid: 10th
Race: 12th

Round 8. The French Grand Prix

Webber made a strong start in the French Grand Prix
Webber made a strong start in the French Grand Prix

F1’s return to Europe also marked a return to points for Webber. After another successful qualifying he put on a stunning display of his talent on Sunday. Despite being out-gunned by Toyota?s Jarno Trulli during the opening lap of the race, Webber coped with the pressure of keeping both of the works Renaults at bay brilliantly. As a result, the Australian added three more points to his tally.

Grid: 8th
Race: 6th

Round 9. The British Grand Prix

Webber put together another superb lap in qualifying, losing less than half a second to Heikki Kovalainen, the pole-sitter. That put Webber second on the starting grid, giving him a lot of optimism for the race.

Unfortunately, it all went sour for Webber on lap one, as the Australian driver hit a paddle on the entrance to Becketts and spun. Fortunately, the rest of the field avoided his stranded car and he rejoined at the back of the field. Webber was able to recover some of the lost ground, overtaking several rivals in the process. But he’d missed a chance to score more points.

Grid: 2nd
Race: 10th

Round 10. The German Grand Prix

Oil cooler failure on his RB4 ended Webber\'s German Grand Prix
Oil cooler failure on his RB4 ended Webber's German Grand Prix

In one of the most exciting races of the season Webber was left disappointed following a rare mechanical failure. In his usual style, the Australian easily made it into the top ten in qualifying, but had to relinquish a position to a hard-charging Sebastian Vettel on lap one.

Nevertheless, points were still possible, as Webber battled the likes of Alonso and Vettel until his engine let go on lap 40. This is how Mark Webber himself described his performance at the Hockenheimring:

We knew it would be a tight race with the guys that were around us on the grid. I had a good fight with Vettel on the first lap and, as the race unfolded, there wasn’t much between the cars. We know the weaknesses of our car here and we’ll work on those before the next race. It was my first mechanical retirement this year; we’ll have to check what caused it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Grid: 8th
Race: DNF

Round 11. The Hungarian Grand Prix

Despite qualifying in the top-eight, Webber came home only in ninth spot, just a place shy from the points. He drove steadily and made no mistakes, but it was not enough to hold on to a spot inside the top eight. In Webber?s own words: ??We weren’t quick enough??.

Grid: 8th
Race: 9th

Round 12. The European Grand Prix

Surprisingly, Webber did not shine in qualifying, posting only the 14th fastest time. His race was ruined by a conservative one-stop strategy and no safety car periods, which the team had hoped for. Anyway, it was one of those weekends during which things did not go Mark?s way.

Grid: 14th
Race: 12th

Round 13. The Belgian Grand Prix

Webber scored a point, following Timo Glock?s penalty for overtaking the Red Bull under yellow flags. Webber had suffered a setback early in the race, when he was hit by Kovalainen at the bus stop chicane.

Under the circumstances, picking up a point was not such a bad outcome. However, Webber was definitely disappointed, as he believed that without the altercation with Kovalainen, he could have finished a lot higher. The Red Bull driver started the race from seventh spot and was running as high as fifth before the accident. No wonder he was expecting more than a point.

Grid: 7th
Race: 8th

Round 14. The Italian Grand Prix

Mark Webber follows Sebastian Vettel and Heikki Kovalainen in the Italian Grand Prix
Mark Webber follows Sebastian Vettel and Heikki Kovalainen in the Italian Grand Prix

It was raining on Saturday in Monza, but that did not cause any problems for Webber. He put his Renault-powered Red Bull in third spot of the grid, less than 0.6 sec behind the sister car (albeit with a now more powerful Ferrari engine) of Vettel, which stood on pole position.

In the race, which began in rain on a soaked track, Webber held onto his place early on, but lost a lot of time after his first stop:

We came out after the first stop behind Robert and Fernando and lost a lot of time on the fresh tyres. That’s when Heikki got a really good gap on me, so the first seven or eight laps behind them killed the tyres and trying to go through them wasn’t easy so lost some time.

The loss of pace during the second stint allowed some of the drivers behind him to pass. On lap 59 Webber made an attempt to pass Hamilton in turn one. The pair banged wheels, but Hamilton kept his place. In the end, only eighth place was possible for Webber, which must have been a bit disappointing for him, considering his starting position – and the fact that future team mate Vettel won.

Grid: 3rd
Race: 8th

Round 15. The Singapore Grand Prix

Mark grabbed only 13th starting position for the inaugural Singapore Grand Prix. While such a result is never good on a street-course, as it is always difficult to pass, Webber could have had a strong outing nonetheless. The start of the Grand Prix was quite eventful for him, as he passed Honda?s Jenson Button, but also lost a position to the fast-starting Renault of Alonso.

Webber made his first pit stop just before the safety car period, which gave him a chance to move up the order. Unfortunately, Mark would be unable to reap the rewards of a good strategy that day, as the Red Bull driver suffered his second mechanical failure of the season:

I lost seventh and then fifth gear, which cost us a fantastic result, as I was stopping for my second pit stop later than [Alonso]. It would have been nice to share the podium with him today, with him winning and me second. We got a bit lucky with the safety car, but in the end it didn’t work out.

Grid: 13th
Race: DNF

Round 16. The Japanese Grand Prix

The 2008 Japanese Grand Prix at Fuji Speedway marked another race in which Webber could not make it through the cut to Q3, having to make do with 13th once again. Unfortunately on race day he had a poor start, falling to the back of the field. However, the car proved to be quite competitive, allowing Webber to regain some of the lost positions. Webber made an excellent recovery, passing Heidfeld (twice) and Barrichello during the early stages of the Grand Prix.

He opted for a one-stop strategy which proved the right thing to do. Running as high as fourth before stopping, Webber found himself in eighth position less than seven laps from the end. Unfortunately, Felipe Massa?s Ferrari was getting bigger in Webber?s rear-view mirrors. Driving on badly-worn tires, Mark could do little to hold Massa?s Ferrari behind and the Brazilian passed on lap 65 out of 67.

This dropped Webber down to ninth, but after Sebastien Bourdais?s penalty he was elevated up to eighth and scored a point – his last in the 2008 season.

Grid: 13th
Race: 8th

Round 17. The Chinese Grand Prix

Webber?s hopes for a good race in China were dashed even before qualifying got under way, as he suffered an engine failure. Making an unscheduled engine change costs 10 places on the starting grid in modern Formula 1, and that is exactly what happened to Mark. The Australian was sixth fastest, but was forced to start from 16th??

Nevertheless, after a strong getaway, Mark produced several highlights of the race, passing Glock, Barrichello and Piquet. Unfortunately, a two-stop strategy did not pay off, leaving Webber stuck in the midfield??

Grid: 16th
Race: 14th

Round 18. The Brazilian Grand Prix

In 2007 Webber was running fourth behind the leading Ferraris and Alonso?s McLaren?? but on lap 15 another mechanical failure ended his race. Therefore Webber had every reason to except a lot from the season finale at Interlagos this year. Unfortunately, the car lacked speed andhe failed to reach Q3 once again.

Starting 12th, Webber moved a few places up the leader board on the opening lap of the race, but changeable weather conditions did not help his cause and he could not get out of midfield. He crossed the finish line in ninth which he described as ??disappointing??, bringing a season of highs and lows to a close.

Grid: 12th
Race: 9th

Next year will see Sebastian Vettel join Mark Webber at Red Bull Racing. Who will get the upper hand?

Read more about Mark Webber: Mark Webber biography

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  • 21 comments on “Mark Webber’s 2008 season: an analysis”

    1. I have to confess to being a bit of a Mark Webber fan, despite his relative lack of success.

      Mark was impressive from his Formula Ford days, where he beat a much fancied team mate to win the title in a works Van Diemen. Despite a lack of funds, he managed to put up a decent show in his single season of British F3. Webber’s path from there to F1 was via the works Mercedes sportscar team and F3000. This meant he was a bit older and wiser than some of today’s rookies before starting his first Grand Prix.

      It also marked him out as being fairly tough – an aerodynamic fault caused his Mercedes to flip twice at high speed in the build up to Le Mans. Some drivers would have never been quite the same again.

      Webber’s first GP was in a Minardi where he finished fifth, fending off Mika Salo’s Toyota in the closing laps. It was an astonishing debut. The following year at Jaguar, Mark blew away the highly rated Antonio Pizzonia who never looked comfortable in F1. Subsequent team mates Justin Wilson and Christian Klein weren’t a problem either.

      The move to Williams for 2005 promised much but delivered little. The Grove team had fallen too far behind Ferrari, Renault and McLaren to mount an effective challenge and its relationship with BMW was deteriorating rapidly. Webber was generally quicker than his new team mate Nick Heidfeld, but (just as we’ve seen in 2008) Heidfeld often managed to reverse his qualifying deficit and they were well matched in races.

      For 2006, Nico Rosberg’s stunning debut flattered to deceive (although Webber finished ahead of Rosberg) and Williams were badly compromised by unreliability.

      Mark’s return to Red Bull in 2007 saw him paired with David Coulthard. Webber was the faster driver but tended to suffer from poorer reliability. A few bits of good luck for Coulthard made the gap between them look artificially close.

      So how good is Mark Webber? Very good. He’s very quick in qualifying, I think that much is widely acknowledged. He’s rarely been under serious threat from a team mate – of Yoong, Pizzonia, Wilson, Klein, Heidfeld, Rosberg and Coulthard only Quick Nick has ever looked remotely on terms. Webber doesn’t often appear to get rattled and his approach (from the outside at any rate) appears calm, pragmatic and unfluttered. It’s difficult to gauge his ability as a development driver.

      If F1 were as simple as comparing team mates, it would be easy to argue that Webber is as good as Robert Kubica on the basis of their performance relative to Heidfeld. But it isn’t, so we just don’t know how good Mark really is. Stick him in a McLaren or Ferrari in 2008 and I suspect he would have won races, but so would a fair few drivers.

      2009 will be a crunch year for Webber and Sebastian Vettel. Unlike Rosberg, Wilson, Pizzonia or Klein, Vettel has had a chance to get settled in F1 (and has even won a GP) before going toe to toe with Mark so they should be on relatively even terms. It could be make or break for one of them.

    2. i agree with Tim, Webber has always outshone his teammates, maybe not on paper but in general he did. And yes i am an avid Webber fan.

      what i really get annoyed about though is when the media complain drivers dont speak out enough, but then when we have someone like Webber for DC for instance, they speak out and they get there ases kicked by the press. sometimes i think the British press are a bunch of poofters, who a hypercritical all too often.

      2009 will be a make or brake season for not only Webber but the whole team at Redbull, the likes of Christian Horner, Adrian Newey, Geoff Willis and just about everyone at Redbull.

    3. I am afraid to say Webber is overrated. Quick in qualifying but nowhere in the races. Not exactly top material. He doesn’t perform under pressure either. Just look at Silverstone. He performed great during quali but when he was EXPECTED to get a good result, he spun out in his first lap. Overrated by a large extent.

    4. The Australian has outclassed every team-mate fate threw at him during his tenure in Formula 1

      apart from Heidfeild.

    5. …..apart from heidfeld, who he also beat in 2005 season.

      If Webbers cars dont break down, he can do really well. He is a ballsy smart driver who knows how to keep out of trouble. He certainly can out perform the car that they give him

    6. @Internet
      “he doesn’t perform under pressure”

      Final run in Q3 @ Silverstone – all on the line -that is pressure!

    7. Webber is a really good driver, its just for some reason he attracts the Lions Share of bad luck. I fervently hope that will change next year, as he really deserves some good results.

    8. Fuji ’07. Throwing up in his helmet, food poisoning, huge downpour, ready to stick one up the inside of Hamilton after the restart, then the wunderkid punts him off the road. Don’t write ol’ Webbo off just yet Internet. The battle at Red Bull should be a spectacle in itself, and even if Vettel beats Webber, I expect them to be more evenly matched than some might think.

    9. Yeah, Internet, nobody else spun out at Silverstone this year. Everyone else was superb under pressure…except a world champion, a word-champion runner-up etc etc

    10. also, Heidfield did out perform Webber on paper, but in reality Webber was generally faster.

      It was the race Webber failed to finish that Heidfield capitalized i.e Sepang, Nurburgring in which those race Webber failed to finish.

    11. There is a lot of quality commentary here. I am a declared Webber fan but I am also one that gets most excited by those guys who really hook up in qualifying so I love watching Trulli drive when he is on it too.

      I think Hamilton is close but I’m yet to put him in that category due to his equipment and the way his car seems to mate with his style and that may not always happen. I also don’t think Alonso is quite that good over a timed lap (he’s very good but shaded a bit in my opinion). Massa sometimes yes..

      The spin at Silverstone was the tipping point for Mark’s 08 year. Outside Barrichello you won’t find a better wet weather driver but Mark had real issues on cold tyres all year. If you looked at his out laps they were all awful.

      Then there was the starts .. a really bad year for starts for RBR in comparison to the others and especially for Mark. Was it that RB lacked the engine control you had when you don’t? Or was it that he was mostly one stopping and the RBR couldn’t cope with being heavy.

      Then there was the engine, I could have sworn Mark’s Shanghai blow up was from the same less developed engine generation that Alonso had blowing up earlier on the continent and he always seemed way behind Alonso & Piquet for hp in the 2nd half of the season. And by that I mean the combination of wing and speed trap and not just the latter. The RB I reckon had the better aero too.

      And I hate it when the one stop strategies is mostly the best strategy. The odds aught to stack the other way for entertainment’s sake so we can the likes of Mark and Trulli drive at optimum from mid field.

    12. @zerogee: Noone else spun on their first lap. Webber qualified 2nd, had the pace and was EXPECTED to get a good result. He couldn’t stand up to the pressure and spun out.

    13. @ Internet. When did Massa spin?

    14. Internet – but the first lap was the first time the drivers had to tackle the soaking track at racing speed. Granted, the puddle that Webber hit should have been obvious from the parade lap but things are always different when you’re racing. Besides, the Red Bull was right at the front of the pack and Webber would have been one of the first drivers to come across it.

      Spinning on the first lap wasn’t a great performance, but I don’t think it’s right to attribute it to pressure from the expectation of a good result.

      Webber’s been in plenty of pressure situations in F1 and there has been little to suggest he caves in. Mark’s first GP was at his home race (Melbourne) and driving for the home team (Paul Stoddart’s Minardi). Despite this, and being pushed very hard by Mika Salo’s faster Toyota in the closing laps, Webber held his nerve and was fifth. Likewise running second for many laps in Hungary 2003, with only Fernando Alonso in front and many faster cars behind. Or Fuji last year, when there was a sniff of a GP win – but it was Vettel who messed up then, not Mark.

      None of this paints a picture of a driver who would spin under the pressure of starting a GP in second, a position in which he’d qualified before.

    15. Internet thinks that if you spin in a race. you’re a bad driver, so I guess the whole field should be replaced? Maybe with him? hahahahaha

    16. @internet

      first lap at silverstone, drivers who went off or spun were. Mark Webber, Felipe Massa, Sebastian Vettel, Kazuki Nakajima, David Coulthard.

      4 othr drivers who spun on the 1st lap.

      Why don’t you take Webbers place, see if you can keep it on track.

    17. @ Internet:

      The car computer had glitched, meaning he was running a dry gearshift pattern. He had no traction! Watch the onboard carefully – as he yanks the paddle back to change gears, that’s the moment he spins.

      And anyway, Massa spun what, six times during that race? And he should have been the champion!

    18. @ Internet:

      I’m not going be able to change your mind. I’ll let Webber change it for you next year against Vettel.

    19. yorricksfriend
      22nd November 2008, 6:10

      Webber has been critically injured in a charity event I just heard on the news

    20. More on Webber’s accident here: Mark Webber in road crash. Thankfully his injuries are not critical but he has broken a leg.

    Comments are closed.