Mark Webber Sumar
The announcement that Mark Webber will race for the KL Minardi Asiatech team in this year's FIA World Formula One Championship marks the culmination of six years hard work by the 25-year old from Queanbeyan, New South Wales. Webber becomes the first Australian since David Brabham (in 1994) to race in Formula One and he will make his grand prix debut in front of his home crowd at Melbourne's Albert Park circuit in the Foster's Australian Formula One Grand Prix
on March 1-3.
In fact, Webber is the first driver in recent history to make his F1 debut in his home grand prix, and on a track he won on in 1996 at the inaugural Melbourne Australian F1 Grand Prix when he competed in a Formula Brabham (nee Holden) race.
Webber had just turned 18 when he left Australia at the end of 1995 after competing in karting and the Australian Formula Ford championship. An impressive international debut, which saw him finish third in the1995 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in England, prompted the famous Van Diemen Formula Ford team (which had run Ayrton Senna and Eddie Irvine in their formative years) to sign him for the 1996 British Championship. Webber finished runner-up in that series and scored a crushing victory at the 1996 Formula Ford Festival - an annual event with an impressive list of previous winners including grand prix stars, Johnny Herbert and Eddie Irvine.
Following success in British Formula Ford, Webber graduated to the British Formula 3 Championship in 1997 with a team run by fellow Australian Alan Docking. He finished fourth in the series despite struggling to find the necessary budget and was almost forced to quit mid-season when his funding ran out. However, fellow Queanbeyanite and former Wallabies rugby union legend, David Campese, came to the rescue and personally financed Webber's next few races which continued to yield good results. Before long, his strong performances in the British series and international F3 events had attracted the attention of Mercedes boss, Norbert Haug, who invited Webber to test for the Mercedes AMG sportscar team.
The test was a huge success and Webber signed with the team to compete in the 1998 FIA GT Championship, partnering former F1 driver Bernd Schneider. Under Mercedes' guidance, Webber matured quickly and revelled in working with a major manufacturer in a racing environment at the age of just 20.
The 1998 season was a memorable one, with a huge test program and 10-round championship which took Webber to the States, Japan and Europe. The Webber/Schneider combination took five wins but were pipped to the title by team-mates, Klaus Ludwig and Ricardo Zonta. Webber was promoted to his own car in 1999 but his love of sportscars came to a premature end when he was involved in two spectacular, high-speed accidents at the 1999 Le Mans 24 Hour Race. An apparent aerodynamic fault with the design of the Mercedes caused the cars of Webber and team-mate Peter Dumbreck to somersault, leaving Mercedes to withdraw its remaining car from the race and the curtailment of its 1999 sportscar campaign.
Indeed, although sidelined for the remainder of 1999 Webber was determined to get his single-seater career back on track for the following season. He began working towards a drive in the international Formula 3000 championship with Paul Stoddart's new European Formula Racing team after being introduced to Paul by F1 team boss, Eddie Jordan.
In 2000, Foster's joined Yellow Pages as a personal sponsor as Webber contested the FIA International F3000 Championship. He took the EFR team to new highs, with victory in round two of the series at Silverstone to take an unexpected early lead in the championship. Ultimately, he ended the season third overall in the drivers' championship behind two third term drivers, Bruno Junqueira and Nicolas Minassian, and was the highest placed rookie.
His results earned him the interest of the Benetton PlayLife Formula One team and in September 2000 he completed a successful three day test for the tea0m at Estoril (Portugal). This led to the team signing Webber on a long-term contract, and for the 2001 season he was contracted by Benetton to race for Super Nova Racing in Formula 3000, as well as being the official test and reserve driver for the Benetton Renault F1 team.
In 2001, Webber scored wins at Imola, Monaco and Magny Cours and finished runner-up in the F3000 series while, in between races, he tested extensively for the Benetton Renault F1 team and contributed towards the team's end-of-season performance boost. Webber completed the long haul to Formula One in 2002 when he joined the Minardi team. In his debut race in front of home fans, Mark drove the PS02 to fifth place and two points. The crowd went wild and it was a moment the young Aussie will never forget.
Sadly, no further points were forthcoming in 2002, however he put in a brilliant performance at the Monaco GP, one that didn't go unnoticed, especially by team bosses at Jaguar Racing who snapped up Webber to partner Antonio Pizzonia the following season.
The Australian had a good season with Jaguar in 2003, scoring 17 of the 18 points amassed by the Milton Keynes based team and brought his name into the lime-light of the big teams. However, with a year on his contract remaining, Webber was confident he could do more in 2004.
Sadly 2004 was not a good season for Webber and Jaguar. The team was announced as 'for sale' mid-season and the Jaguar R5 was not the huge step forward the team had hoped for. Still, Webber did a solid job for much of the season, showing flashes of brilliance - especially in qualifying trim. The Malaysian Grand Prix saw Webber start a remarkable second alongside Michael Schumacher but in what characterised much of a frustrating season, Webber spun out of contention.
Frank Williams had had an eye on Webber for some time and it was therefore of little surprise that he joined Nick Heidfeld in the BMW powered team in 2005. Webber's break into the big time had come but 19 races later, the Australian had endured another tough season. Webber was sensational again in qualifying trim but all too often in the races themselves, he tripped up and failed to score points. Team-mate Nick Heidfeld was far more consistent and Webber would score just one podium position - his first - at the Monaco Grand Prix. Tenth in the overall standings in 2005, Webber remains with Williams in 2006 and is joined by rising star Nico Rosberg.
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