Voices

Aussie Grit: review of Mark Webber’s autobiography

There’s something for everyone in the story of Mark Webber’s life to date.

As a long-term F1 fan I discovered several new and interesting insights into the sport within just the first few pages, and there was much more to come throughout the book.  Others may just enjoy learning about the man himself, and his story from the very earliest days to his World Endurance Racing (WEC) campaign is told in detail.  Sports fans who don’t follow motor racing will get a good insight into F1 as the book certainly doesn’t assume you to be a F1 nut, and everybody who has even a passing interest in motorsport will relish the fairly blunt observations on events, people and F1 racing in general.  A measure of the skill with which the book is written is that it is a fair read for such diverse audiences.

The story draws very little on the thoughts or observations of others, save those closest to Mark such as his partner Ann, and his father.  That is the way in autobiographies, so those looking for a more well-rounded view of the man will need to look elsewhere.

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Mark’s final F1 race and a podium with two of the very best drivers. He was proud to be able to go head to head with those guys. Would have been interesting to see their perspectives of him.

Yet the book certainly doesn’t come off as self-serving, and Mark even relates more than a few errors – what happened in 2011 with Mercedes at the ‘Ring was my favourite, as it shows even F1 drivers are human!  I suspect plenty of other drivers would have glossed over those little episodes.  In fact, the anecdotes make the book – I won’t relate them all here, but a few choice picks are the insights into Michael Schumacher’s cheat at Monaco in 2006, the email from the president of Ferrari after the infamous “taxi ride”, details on the “Multi 21” fiasco, and why F1 drivers do burnouts in the exact places they do.  The episode with Vettel in Malaysia in 2013 is covered in detail, and the conclusion is that Vettel was something “of a pawn” in a bigger game.  There’s also some frank commentary on the new breed of F1 cars, and comparisons to the WEC.  It’s all very interesting, and such candour is a bit unusual for a modern sportsman, as is the fact Mark freely states his last team-mate was a better F1 driver.

Something else unusual was Mark’s path to the top.  He began racing aged 13, later than the average even back then.  Today, the way to go is out of nappies into karts.  Also rare is the fact Mark never won a championship such as karting, Formula Ford, F3000, DTM, sportscars or anything else…he just did enough winning in each category he raced in to move up to the next level, ably assisted by his now-partner Ann.   Most F1 drivers have won national or world championships in some category or other before they get to F1.

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Mark’s book gives a good insight into just how hard it is to do what this picture shows.

So how good a race driver is Mark Webber?  It’s impossible to say how good one driver is relative to another, which is why there’s so many top different 50 lists of F1 drivers.  That said, Mark is not considered to be one of the greats, in the same vein as Fangio, Schumacher, Hill, Clark, Stewart, Senna, Moss, Prost, Villenueve and in modern times Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton.   But we’re talking here of the top 20 across history, so the most rarifed of rarified air.

Yet on his day – and there were quite a few days – Mark went wheel-to-wheel with the best of them and came out on top.  You don’t win the Monaco GP twice by accident, and the overtake below will surely make the cut one of the most daring and skilled passes in the history of F1:

As far as perceptions go, it could be said that coming from Australia was a disadvantage, where F1 is not widely followed and anything other than gold is viewed as failure, so the fact Mark never won the world championship meant in some eyes he never quite measured up. 

There is a tinge of regret to that effect in the book, and it’s always interesting to see that no matter how good you are and how much you achieve, someone’s always done that little bit better – that’s certainly true of us humble weekend warriors, but it’s nice to learn it’s the same for the top pros like Mark.  It is also interesting to consider the case of a sportsman who shoots to top, lifts the ultimate prize and then fades, never to repeat that success.  Contrast that with the likes of Mark who never quite got to the top step, but was there, or thereabouts for a long, long time – sustained excellence.  Or those that did get to the top, but secretly regret how they got there.

With no segue at all, it is definitely worth remembering that in 2010 Sebastian Vettel won the world championship, but Mark had led the title race for quite a few races and only lost out on the very last race.  How different would the world have viewed him had he had a little bit more luck on the day?  Apart from “very”, we’ll never know.

But back in the real world.  You don’t even get to F1 without a lot of talent and commitment, so let’s look at some statistics:

  • Number of race drivers in the world – unknown, but it’s in the tens of thousands.
  • Number of professional race drivers – thousands
  • Percentage of those who’d like even one crack at an F1 race – 100%
  • Number of drivers throughout history who have started an F1 race – 749
  • Number of drivers who have scored a point in an F1 race – 330
  • Number of drivers who have scored a podium (top 3) position – 205.  Mark is 19th on that list with 42.
  • Number of drivers drivers have won an F1 race – 105.  Mark has won 9, and is 34th on that list.  Only 73 drivers in history have won two or more F1 races.

Thanks to http://www.statsf1.com/

Mark is also 17th on the fastest lap list with 19 and 30th on the pole position list with 13.  He has entered 215 grand prixs, making him the 11th most experienced driver ever.   OK, he’s a modern driver with a long lifespan, but that’s still impressive.

And he maintained his ability to compete as a top-level driver over 12 years, a long time for any elite sport and even for Formula 1.   Even after F1 he is still competing at the highest level with Porsche in the World Endurance Championship.  Mark may never have won a major championship, but he doesn’t need one to lay claim to being of Australia’s, and the world’s best racing drivers – the statistics above say it all, and the way the book is written tells you all you need to know about someone who nobody seems to have a bad word about.  A few exchanges with very senior people are reprinted verbatim and their content says a lot.  Top driver, top bloke, and now a top read. 

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For his final race Mark removed his helmet to let the fans see the man underneath.

 

Aussie Grit

ISBN: 9781743517710

Pub. Date: 01-07-2015

Imprint: Macmillan Australia

There’s two versions – UK and Australian.  The Aussie version has a foreword by Steve Waugh, and the UK version by Jackie Stewart. 

More details on Mark’s website:

http://www.markwebber.com/news/2015/aussie-grit-by-mark-webber-out-now/

Publisher’s website page

Mark Webber’s Australian Tour Details

NSW: TALK – 09/07/2015 – 18:30
Mark Webber ‘in conversation’ cocktail party to be held at Sofitel Wentworth Hotel Sydney, through Dymocks city. Sofitel Sydney Wentworth, 61-101 Phillip Street, Sydney, NSW 2000

ACT: SIGNING – 10/07/2015 – 19:00
Dymocks Belconnen – Westfield Belconnen, Shop 159-160, Level 3, Benjamin Way, Belconnen, ACT 2617

NSW: SIGNING – 11/07/2015 – 11:30
Dymocks Penrith – Westfield Penrith, Shop 145, Level 1, 585 High Street, Penrith NSW 2750

WA: TALK – 13/07/2015 – 07:00
Crown Metropol ‘Grand Ballroom’ – The West Australian Leadership Breakfast with Dymocks Booragoon.  Mark Webber ‘in conversation’ about his autobiography ‘Aussie Grit’. Crown Metropol Perth, Cnr of Great Eastern Highway & Boston Ave, Burswood, WA 6100

WA: SIGNING – 13/07/2015 – 12:30
Dymocks Garden City – Garden City Shopping Centre, Shop 33-34, 125 Riseley Street, Booragoon WA 6154

QLD: SIGNING – 15/07/2015 – 12:00
Dymocks Brisbane CBD – Queen Street Mall; 177 Albert St, Brisbane, QLD 4000.

VIC: SIGNING – 16/07/2015 – 12:30
Melbourne City – Dymocks Melbourne, Lower Ground Floor, 234 Collins Street, Boutique Place, Melbourne VIC 3000

VIC: SIGNING – 18/07/2015 – 11:00
Big W – Eastland Shopping Centre, 171-175 Maroondah Hwy, Ringwood VIC

QLD: SIGNING – 19/07/2015 – 11:00
Dymocks Carindale – Westfield Carindale (Centre Court) – 1151 Creek Rd, Carindale, QLD

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Robert Pepper

Robert Pepper