Making a mark

So there we have it. 4 years, 4 championships. Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel, congratulations.

Amidst the joyous mêlée after the Indian Grand Prix, someone has slipped under the usual media radar. At this point in the season, with two races left, the careers of the retiring drivers will be the focus of many articles, videos and discussions.

With 9 wins, 34 podiums and 197 races (like Sir Jackie Stewart, he too will end tantalisingly on (1)99 races), Mark Webber’s is a career not to forget. But for an injury gained in a cycling incident in the latter quartile of 2010, we could now be hailing him as a world champion.

But there’s more to this. We could say, “Yes, a skilled driver”, and mourn the lost chances. Yet, had Webber have been a more skillful politician, we could be reviewing the career of a multiple world champion.

When David Coulthard retired in 2008, the gap left by him at Red Bull Racing could so easily have been manipulated by Webber to his advantage. Young team-mate Sebastian Vettel was not then fully capable in English, new to the team and to Formula One. Had Webber taken a more dominant position, utilising these short-term weaknesses of Vettel, he could have assumed the number one driver position which would be so crucial in the seasons to come.

As it was, he did not, leaving Vettel to sweep everything over into his garage. Doubtless, a healthy friendship with F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone did nothing to harm Vettel; an alliance Webber, if more politically astute, perhaps should have made, along with closer inter-team friendships.

By 2010, Vettel had secured himself the number one position; after winning the race at Silverstone that year, Webber famously radioed back to his team principal, “Not bad for a number 2 driver.” Vettel had been given Webber’s spare front wing after his had broken, which would have caused an issue to say the least, had Webber been involved in an incident in the race. Despite Webber taking several victories that season, and not just due to his team-mate’s various misfortunes, it was Vettel who crossed the line first in Abu Dhabi to take his inaugural championship.

Vettel and Webber have never got on well, nor are they likely to. Webber’s annoyance at the ostensible confidence and momentarily dubious tactics of his German team-mate are clear; in Turkey 2010, Vettel smashed into Webber for apparently little reason. Once team orders were legalised in 2011, Webber was frequently given lesser set-up options and tyre strategies, the guinea pig for the meister. This year in Malaysia, both drivers were ordered to conserve fuel, Webber being ahead, but Vettel squandered his low fuel in order to put one over on his team-mate.

“You might not think that’s cricket, and it’s not, it’s motor racing”, quipped legendary commentator Murray Walker. He’s right. It isn’t. Motor racing, ever since the days of the FISA/FOCA war of the 1980s, has been highly politicised. It takes a skilled politician to come out on top of the inter-team rivalries and injustices, supplier crises and race incidents.

Political aptitude. What Vettel has in swathes. What Webber lacks considerably. And the one with the quadruple consecutive championships, 37 wins and 60 podiums?

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