When Mark Webber left F1 at the end of 2013, he departed with the admiration of his peers, fans and just about everyone connected with the sport.
Last Updated: 16/01/14 5:45pm
When Mark Webber left F1 at the end of 2013, he departed with the admiration of his peers, fans and just about everyone connected with the sport. Respect is one thing, but how the Australian must have wished he was taking with him the scalp of erstwhile team-mate Sebastian Vettel.
Not that we're suggesting he followed the historic deeds of native American Indian warriors, of course, although one senses he also wished he could have done just that once or twice during a fractious five-year spell alongside the younger man at Red Bull. More it was the desire of Webber - and plenty of others, it must be said - to defeat Vettel on track and head off to race sportscars with a world title under his belt.
Alas for the 37-year-old, it never happened. There was a time during the 2010 season when it looked like it might, however hindsight suggests that year's Korean Grand Prix - which Webber crashed out of in wet conditions - was the turning point. Having arguably fought longer and harder than all of his rivals to be given the chance, how deflating it was that he couldn't take advantage when the opportunity finally presented itself.
Undoubtedly talented he might be, but determination is the virtue one more normally associates with Webber. The sort of determination that led him to set his sights on Europe and Formula 1 when staying at home and racing touring cars could have brought rich pickings far sooner in his career. Making his karting debut aged 14, he graduated to Formula Ford in 1994 and after heading to the UK the following year, he won the 1996 Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch.
Webber moved to F3 in 1997 but despite subsequently testing for Arrows and Benetton - and also relying on a cash injection from Australian rugby legend David Campese at one stage, when it appeared as though his career had hit the buffers - he had to wait until 2002 for his F1 debut with fellow Aussie Paul Stoddart's Minardi team.
Joyous scenes followed in Melbourne, where Webber finished fifth in his first outing. He failed to score points again that year but switched to Jaguar nonetheless for 2003, before leaving the following year and spurning the chance to join Renault - who went on to become title winners in 2005 and 2006 - instead opting to follow countryman Alan Jones (who remains Australia's last World Champion) and race for Williams.
He scored just one podium finish with Williams at Monaco and any promise evaporated completely in 2006 when Webber scored just seven points in total. Team and driver parted ways and Webber sought to establish momentum once more at Red Bull (who ironically had bought out Jaguar) but the story was much the same at first as the team struggled with poor reliability.
Webber was joined by rising star Vettel in 2009 and even though his own preparations were dealt a blow by a pre-season mountain biking accident in which he sustained a broken leg, it soon became clear that expectations needed to be ramped up. The Adrian Newey-designed RB5 was the step forward the team had hoped for and the Australian finally delivered his first win in Germany.
Better was to follow in 2010 and for much of the year it seemed that he, rather than Vettel, was set to deliver Red Bull their first World Championship. Wins in Spain, Monaco, Britain and Hungary saw Webber lead the standings with just three races to go but the Korea crash proved costly and he was ultimately pipped to the post by his team-mate in the Abu Dhabi finale.
Red Bull dominated the following year but it was Vettel who led all the way. His team-mate, in contrast, scored just one win in the season-finale at Interlagos - and even that came after the German's car had developed a problem. By then, Vettel had already won 11 races to mount a successful, dominant, defence of his title. Webber hit back in the first half of 2012 and came to the boil with wins in Monaco and at Silverstone. Once again, he briefly appeared capable of challenging but it simply wasn't to be, with Vettel hitting a purple patch late in the season to secure his third world title.
How did he do it? Consensus focuses on Vettel's uncanny ability to extract the most from exhaust/blown diffuser technology - a clear performance differentiator in recent seasons and also an area in which Red Bull excelled. There were times when they didn't necessarily lead the way in this regard - during 2010 and early in the 2012 season, for example - and it's interesting that these were the times when Webber was able to at least challenge.
What was far, far more interesting to the world at large, though, were his run-ins with Vettel. Round one came during the 2010 Turkish GP, when the pair collided whilst disputing the lead, while Webber also won at Silverstone that year after Red Bull had, rather pointedly, removed an upgraded front wing from his car during practice and handed it to Vettel. There were other moments - the 2011 British GP and the 2012 Brazilian GP spring to mind - when Webber appeared to make his car rather too large for his team-mate's liking - the Interlagos duelling particularly unhelpful as far as Vettel was concerned, given that his title aspirations were on the line at the time.
Just two races into the 2013 season there followed the Malaysian GP controversy, when Vettel defied team orders to pass Webber and win the race - an incident that will, perhaps, define their time together. For his part, Webber seemed to mentally check out of F1 there and then. His retirement announcement came during the summer and at no point was there any real sign that he might use the incident as inspiration. If anything, by the end of the season - one which Vettel ended more dominant than ever - the distinct impression was of a man who couldn't wait to get out of there.
Webber now heads to Porsche's WEC campaign, where plenty will be keeping tabs on his progress and asking whether he can become a World Champion in that category at least. In the meantime, F1 bids farewell to a redoubtable campaigner and one who, in the long, winding route he took to the very top, could well be the last of his kind.