Time running out for old man Webber

Mark Webber is now the oldest driver on the grid and will be hoping to achieve success, both at his home grand prix and in the season, before time runs out on his career.

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Suhas Bhat

By Suhas Bhat

Webber is an active persona on Twitter and has an appropriate username as well - 'Aussie Grit'. The 36-year-old, well-known for being a determined and resilient driver, has always been his own boss characterised by a straight-talking, brash and no-nonsense approach to life. 

In other words, he's a typical Australian. 

In the course of a career stretching over 11 seasons, he has raced for Minardi, Jaguar, Williams & Red Bull. In 2010 and 2011, he finished third in the championship but fell down the standings last year although he did help Sebastian Vettel significantly in the title race by outscoring Ferrari's Fernando Alonso eight times over the season. 

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Ahead of his home race later on Sunday, FOX Sports takes a look at the career of one of Australia’s favourite sons. . 

Born to be a sportsman

Webber began his motorsport journey 19 years ago when he took part in the 1993 Australian Formula Ford Championship.

Always keen to get into sports, competitive driving only came about “because he wasn’t as good at cycling, rowing or athletics,” according to Beverly Turner in her book The Pits.  

He took the long way to Formula 1 and needed a £25,000 loan by neighbour, and former rugby international, David Campese to finance his relocation to England in 1997. After stints in the FIA GT Championship as well as the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans tournament with Mercedes, he became a test driver for Benetton in 2001.

But it was only when he joined the now-defunct Minardi team that he started his Formula 1 career in 2002, his first race being the Australian Grand Prix.

Making an impact in Melbourne 2002 

The Minardi driver was only given a three-race contract and tasked to impress in Melbourne. He did exactly that with a fifth place finish, much to the amazement of the home fans. Even the likes of Alonso and Vettel could not finish in the top ten in their debut races. 

"It doesn't get any better than this ... I feel like I won," Webber said afterwards. "I just don't want to wake up in the morning and find it hasn't happened."

It turned out to be no dream and he was given a contract for the rest of the season, managing to finish nine more times.

After frustrating stints with Jaguar and Williams, Webber was finally presented with a car capable of challenging for top honours with Red Bull, joining Christian Horner’s team in 2007. But it was only two years later, in a vastly-changed F1 environment, that the Milton Keynes outfit managed to overtake the leading duo of Ferrari and McLaren with Webber securing the first win of his career in Germany later on. 

The next three years are a matter of record now as being an era of dominance for team-mate Vettel. However, Webber hasn’t exactly been a straggler with seven race wins and 24 podiums during that period.

Red Bull’s very own Ryan Giggs

As the likes of Ruben Barrichello, Pedro de La Rosa, Heikki Kovalainen and Bruno Senna saw age catch up with them in their 30s, Webber has continued to remain fit and ready for the demands of F1 racing. 

A self-confessed Manchester United fan, he takes inspiration from the evergreen Ryan Giggs who, similarly, has impressed in the twilight of his career.  

“Ryan Giggs is a professional. What he has achieved shows discipline and work-rate,” Webber commented during his visit to Old Trafford during the Champions League last-16 second leg against Real Madrid.

“It is all about knowing when to turn it on. Am I absolutely as fast and raw and feeling as I did when I was 22? Probably not.

“But am I more calculated and composed? Yes. Definitely. For example, I was able to close it out at Monaco last year. It is a tough race but I closed it out and was in control.”

“I still feel 25. I know I am not but I feel young. I don’t feel as though I am getting tired when driving the car. I feel good.”

Webber only keen to go out at the top

Like every year, the pressure will be on Webber to deliver in front of an expectant home audience. Not much is known about Red Bull’s challenger, the RB9, but as the rules and the regulations have not changed much, they are expected to be competitive this year as well. 

Webber struggled to follow up his front-row starts with impressive drives last year, and was regularly overtaken at the first corner. However, he still managed to finish 57 ahead of Felipe Massa, Ferrari’s number two driver. 

It is likely that the Aussie does not have a lot of time left, especially since his declaration that he would rather retire at the top than move to a lesser marque. He cited the example of Barrichello to explain his point – the Brazilian had been a Ferrari driver but stayed on in the sport with Honda, Brawn and Williams before retiring in 2011 at the age of 37. 

“It’s a funny old business, Formula One. But chopping and changing teams...I admire Rubens for that. I couldn’t have done what he did in terms of being at the top and winning races and then going back down through teams in Formula One and being in an uncompetitive environment” he told Sky Sports recently. 

“That’s something that would be quite difficult. I’m not particularly keen on doing that.” 

This year, his performances will again be put under scrutiny as Red Bull look to him for strong showings over the season to win the Constructors’ Championship. 

Despite their unquestioned reliance on Webber to vie for the championship, Red Bull have given him only one-year contract extensions since 2009. Should they fail to renew it at the end of this year, it’s a safe bet that the Australian will call time on a two-decade career in motorsport. 

Australian fans, therefore, will fervently be hoping to finally see their hero take the chequered flag on Sunday. 

Having finished second in Sunday’s qualifying session, Webber’s legion of supporters will now be optimistic that the gritty Australian will finally get to celebrate on the podium in his home race.  

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