Home has been anything but sweet for Mark Webber in recent years, but he’s ready for a reversal of fortunes in his 10th race at Albert Park
by Matthew Clayton
Mark Webber has, in his own words, “ticked a lot of boxes” in his last two seasons in Formula One. In his past 36 races, the 34-year-old has managed six wins and 18 podiums in all, but for all that success, there are two glaring holes in his CV that he’s determined to fix this year.
There are five tracks on the 2011 calendar where the Australian has never stood on the podium. Two of them have been on that calendar in every one of Webber’s nine F1 years.
One is Monza; the other, Albert Park.
Webber is well aware of what he calls a “hideous stat”, and after a front-row start here last year produced a ninth-place finish, he’s hopeful that he can improve on that home record on Sunday.
“After the last two years, I know there’s not a huge amount of tracks that I haven’t had a podium on now; here, Canada, Monza, and obviously some of the newer ones like Valencia and Korea,” the Red Bull driver says.
“I actually don’t mind the track here even though the results haven’t come, and I’ve always been pretty quick around here.”
Webber has qualified inside the top 10 in six of the last seven years at home, but race day success has been harder to come by.
This Sunday will be Webber’s 10th race at Albert Park, with fifth on debut for Minardi in 2002 and the same result in his first race for Williams three years later being the high points.
He led the race for a lap in 2006 for Williams before being forced out with gearbox failure, got caught out in first-lap accidents in 2008 and 2009, and was wrong-footed by the changeable weather here last year despite setting the fastest lap of the race.
Webber says his memories of the 2002 debut, driving for compatriot Paul Stoddart, still burn brightest.
“Ten years at home goes pretty quickly, and it’s hard to remember what happened in a lot of them,” he says.
“The thing I remember most from ’02 was that it was such a bizarre week and people like ‘Stoddy’, (Australian Grand Prix Corporation chairman) Ron Walker and (chief executive) John Harnden. Then to have everyone crash into each other at the start … and I still don’t know how that car even got around the track, but it did.”
Success was a long time coming for Webber – no driver in F1 history has waited longer for his maiden victory (130 starts) – but times have changed dramatically in the last two seasons. While he stops short of saying that a win at home would rate second only to a World Championship, it’s clear that he’s motivated by victory in Australia being within reach.
“For me to win my home event would be right up there with Monaco. I’ve had six of them (wins) now, but this one would be the next-highest on my list, if you like.”
Red Bull and Ferrari look to be the two teams to beat based on pre-season testing times, but Webber is wary of Albert Park’s reputation as a car-breaker this weekend.
“This is just a brutal event in terms of car preparation,” he says.
“You can fail to finish in the first few races very easily. We’ve just done an amazing amount of mileage in the (northern hemisphere) winter, but the cars are incredibly complicated. I predict we’re going to have good reliability this year, and I really hope that we do because we have some good things in place with the car.
“But I just want a smooth Sunday this weekend and to get started with a good result.”