While Mark Webber’s rivals relaxed at the end of a grueling 18-race Formula One season, the intrepid Aussie embarked on the cycling leg of his charity challenge in Tasmania. He was tearing along the dirt tracks near Hobart when everything suddenly went blank. Mark woke up in hospital after being hit by a car. His lightning quick reactions saw him get his torso out the way of its bullbars, but his trailing right leg didn’t make it. The fibula was smashed in the impact. A five-hour operation followed, during which the surgeons installed a titanium rod in the bone, and then came endless physio to get Mark back to full fitness – if a sportsman ever achieves the same level of dexterity after such a comprehensive break.
This accident turned out to be the defining moment of Mark Webber’s Formula One career. Just as he was about to get his hands on a race-winning car – the RB5 – for the first time, he faced the biggest setback of his career. He approached his recuperation with typical Aussie grit, but he was still using crutches when he tested the team’s 2009 racer for the first time.
“Getting ready for ’09 was really tough,” says Mark. “The pain was always there and there were some pretty low moments during that winter. I have to thank the team – and Dietrich [Mateschitz, Red Bull boss] in particular – for the loyalty that they showed. It would have been easy to get rid of me, but they stuck by me.”
Mark repaid everyone’s loyalty. At the Chinese Grand Prix on April 19, just five months after the crash, he survived atrociously wet conditions to finish second and give Red Bull Racing its first ever one-two finish.
The momentum continued to build throughout the season, as did the strength of Mark’s right leg, and he scored his first Grand Prix win in the middle of July, at the German Grand Prix.
Mark utterly dominated proceedings at the Nürburgring. He won easily, despite being given a drive-through penalty by the stewards early in the race. “Yes, yes, yes,” he yelled over the car-to-pits radio after crossing the line and there were tears on the podium as “Advance Australia Fair” echoed around a racetrack for the first time since Alan Jones’s final victory, at Las Vegas in 1981.
“You dream of moments like that,” says Mark. “When you’re performing on the international stage you want to do yourself proud and you want to do your country proud. I did that at the Nürburgring. That victory was special for many reasons: It was my first win and I was also proud of the way I won the race, overcoming the drive-through penalty.”
A second win came in Brazil at the end of the year, prior to a full-on championship assault in 2010. Metronomic consistency during the early part of the year, combined with a healthy scattering of victories at Spain, Monaco, Silverstone and Hungary resulted in him leading the championship with only two races to go. But just when he dared to dream about winning the greatest prize in motorsport, it all went wrong: He crashed out in Korea and eventually came home third in the standings following a five-way championship decider in Abu Dhabi. After the race at Yas Marina, three-time world champion Jackie Stewart visited Mark in the team’s hospitality suite. “I wanted to console him,” says Jackie. “It’s very tough to lose like that, but what doesn’t break you makes you stronger.”
And Mark got stronger. Over the course of the next three seasons, he scored many podiums and he was a vital cornerstone of Infiniti Red Bull Racing’s four consecutive constructors’ championships. The emotional scenes at the final race of 2013, Mark’s last race as a Grand Prix driver, proved his popularity inside the team.
“Mark’s played a vital role in the history of this team,” says Team Principal Christian Horner. “He’s driven more races for us than any other driver, and that isn’t a coincidence. He’s a very fast racing driver, and for the past five years he and Sebastian have formed what I believe to be the strongest driver pairing in Formula One.”
We’ll never know how events in Tasmania on that fateful day in November 2008 affected Mark’s competitiveness. He’s never been one to make excuses, and he’s not about to start now. But Martin Brundle, Johnny Herbert and Marc Surer all claim that they were never the same after their leg-breaking accidents in the 1980s.
“I can’t hide behind that shunt,” says Mark. “And I’ve got no complaints about my career. Everyone would like to win the world title, but it didn’t happen for me. When I left Australia to try my luck in Europe all those years ago, I’d never have dreamt that I would have a Formula One career like the one I’ve had. I can look back at the last twelve years with a lot of satisfaction.”
Those Unforgettable Moments
Surviving the deluge at the start of the race was memorable; scoring his first podium with Red Bull Racing made the race unforgettable.
China GP 2009
Horrendous weather conditions catch out several of the front-runners, but not Mark. He comes second to Sebastian Vettel to give the team its first 1-2 finish.
Mark’s first victory in Formula One. He comes home 9.2 seconds ahead of Vettel, despite having a drive-through penalty early in the race.
“Every driver wants to win Monaco,” said Mark on the eve of the race. And win it he did. Twice. In 2010 and 2012.
Great Britain 2010
Often referred to as the “fifth Brit” on the grid, Mark lives near Silverstone and loves racing at the track. Two wins, in 2010 and 2012, were the icing on the cake.
Eau Rouge is one of the fastest and most famous corners in the world. To pass Fernando Alonso around the outside, as Mark did on lap 10 of the 2011 race, was pure class (and extremely brave!).
Catch Mark’s message to you below.