Webber seeks to emulate Jones and Brabham
Abu Dhabi :Once considered a journeyman driver, seemingly destined to play a supporting role, Mark Webber now stands one step away from becoming the first Australian in 30 years to win the Formula One title.
Like many a frustrated racer before him, the 34-year-old just needed the tools to get on with the job.
Finally given them, the rugged and plain-talking Red Bull driver has emerged as the genuine contender he always knew he could be.
"It`s a shame that it took a large part of his career before he got himself into a competitive car," team principal Christian Horner told Reuters at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
"He`s a very focused, very dedicated sportsman -- not just through talent but through dedication, application, sheer commitment and dogged-mindedness."
Only a few years ago, observers regarded Webber as a good qualifier, someone who could haul an average car far higher up the grid than it deserved to be.
But they also said he was untested under pressure, often faded in races and was an unknown quantity when it came to overtaking and leading.
Webber did not even carry himself like a typical Formula One driver, preferring to spend most of his time with partner Ann and their dogs in a village in rural England rather than decamping to some millionaire`s playground.
Horner, who lives just down the road from Webber, has rated him highly ever since he tried to sign the emerging talent for his Formula 3000 team more than a decade ago.
"When we were building the team at Red Bull and were looking for a really pacy, strong driver then, despite Mark having a contract at the time with Williams, he became our prime choice," he said.
"I think he`s evolved and got better and better in the environment that we`ve provided. We`ve given him a race winning car and he`s made the most of it, even after the injury that was horrendous at the end of 2008."
After a scoring debut with struggling Minardi in front of his home crowd in 2002, the no-nonsense Australian progressed to Jaguar and faded former champions Williams before joining Red Bull in 2007.
Until last year, he had been just twice on the podium with two third place finishes. Then, at the end of the 2008 season, the cycling fanatic broke his leg and shoulder in a mountain bike accident in Tasmania.
Webber started last year literally on the back foot, limping along with metal pins in his leg. By the end of it, he was a winner with two race victories to his credit.
Starting 2010 with German team mate Sebastian Vettel considered the team`s blue-eyed boy and most likely future champion, Webber has upset the odds.
Along the way there have been controversies, collisions and arguments with his team. Webber has referred to himself as a `number two`, an `inconvenient` title contender but he has never let his chin drop.
"Mark`s done pretty much everything right this year," said McLaren`s Lewis Hamilton last weekend.
"He has been told by his team what position he is, and against adversity he has kept at it. I think he has done an awesome job."
Webber, who won this year`s showcase Monaco Grand Prix as well as Spain, Britain and Hungary, has had a hard road to the top and this year may well be the best chance he will ever get of following in the footsteps of Australian champions Jack Brabham and Alan Jones.
Starting out in British Formula Three, he was so short of cash that he feared he would have to go home until Wallabies rugby union great and family friend David Campese came to his rescue with A$100,000.
In 1999, Webber was also lucky to escape unscathed when his Mercedes flipped twice, rising almost vertically, in practice for the Le Mans 24 Hours race. Mercedes ended its sportscar programme for the year, leaving him out in the cold.
If he wins on Sunday, it will all have been worth it.
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