4 – Mark Webber
F1 2010 was a season of 'ifs' and 'buts' for Mark Webber – if
he hadn't crashed out on only the second racing lap in torrential conditions in Korea, but
for a scrappy performance on home turf Down Under in Melbourne or his costly and spectacular collision with Heikki Kovalainen in Valencia. At the end of the day, 'ifs' and 'buts' do not a world champion make. But Mark came extremely close.
Having begun proceedings at full strength – as contrasted with the early races of 2009, when he was still suffering from the lingering after-effects of a badly-broken leg – Webber's initial form, truth be told, was abject. In the Bahrain curtain-raiser, he was nowhere near the pace of Red Bull Racing team-mate – and eventual world champion – Sebastian Vettel, and in Australia a fortnight later, he calamitously ran into the back of McLaren-Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton as the pair duelled over fifth.
In fairness, Webber did not genuinely start to establish himself as a credible contender for the crown until his sublime back-to-back victories in Spain and Monaco, the latter the jewel in F1's glittering crown. In both races, Vettel did not have an answer to him – and the results vaulted the Australian to the top of the drivers' standings for the first time in his career. He would arguably have made it a straight hat-trick, indeed, but for the contentious internecine contretemps
One of the indisputable flashpoints of Red Bull's tumultuous campaign, a lesser character might very well have found his spirit crushed by the blame unjustly apportioned on him by senior RBR management in the wake of the Turkish fracas
– but Mark rose above it, and similarly putting his terrifying somersault in Valencia behind him, he rebounded in fine style with a tremendous triumph at Silverstone in mid-summer, making his feelings about his treatment within the team known to all-and-sundry on the slowing-down lap afterwards.
That he ostensibly fought with one arm tied behind his back for much of the year given Red Bull's perceived favouritism towards Vettel and preference for the German to prevail only serves to make Webber's unexpected form all-the-more impressive, and his Hungaroring victory was as fine a win as was seen all season, whilst Spa-Francorchamps was the scene for a mature performance in conditions that caught out many of his rivals. It was impossible to fault his consistency, either, as he finished more races inside the points than did any other driver in the field.
You could argue that the 34-year-old – the 'old man' of the five title protagonists at the age of 34 – did not step up to the plate when he really
needed to, and that Vettel's palpably superior late-season form was what ultimately swung the momentum away from Webber's side of the RBR garage, but there was rarely all that much to choose between the two drivers, and it was, as Mark himself acknowledged once the campaign had drawn to a close, just little things that in the end made all the difference.
He wasn't far off in F1 2010, wasn't Mark Webber – and should he be allowed to take on Vettel on equal terms in 2011, his chance of lifting the sport's greatest prize may not yet have entirely passed.
Statistics – Mark Webber:
Red Bull Racing
Red Bull-Renault RB6
1st (Spain, Monaco, Britain, Hungary)
Crash.net's Top 10 F1 drivers of 2010:
4. Mark Webber
5. Robert Kubica
6. Jenson Button
7. Nico Rosberg
8. Rubens Barrichello
9. Heikki Kovalainen
10. Nico Hülkenberg
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