As his teammate Sebastian Vettel was drenched in champagne, and unconvincingly downplayed the assumption he is assured of a fourth-successive Formula One title, Red Bull’s Mark Webber sat disconsolately in the garage and reflected upon yet another chapter in his story of extraordinary bad luck.
The Australian has shown a repeated knack throughout his career for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, even spawning a Facebook page titled `Why is Mark Webber so unlucky’, and Sunday’s Korean Grand Prix may well have been the most remarkable example yet.
Having started the race with a harsh ten-place grid penalty for merely hitching a ride back to the pits after the Singapore Grand Prix, Webber had worked his way up from 13th to a creditable third place when he made his second pit stop after lap 29 of 55 at the Yeongam circuit.
Emerging back onto the track, Webber was trailing Sergio Perez when the McLaren’s right-front tire blew and Webber had no way to avoid the debris, immediately picking up a puncture that sent him back to the pits again.
“The tires are wearing a lot and they also explode a bit, but that is for Pirelli to sort out,” a philosophical Webber said after the race.
It was a blow, but fitting a new set of medium-compound tires would have given Webber a fighting chance of a decent points finish. However he was bemused to see the team had fitted a set of the short-life super-softs instead.
The radio message from his engineer said: “We are in a tricky position, the plan is to try to go to the end” to which Webber radioed back “Why did we choose the options?” The sheepish answer was: “We had nothing else left mate.”
Upon resumption of the race after a safety car period, Webber was charging into the turn out of the main straight when he was hit from behind by the spinning Force India of Adrian Sutil, impacting the KERS system on the Red Bull and immediately starting a fire.
Webber, whose start to a season was once delayed by being hit by a car while riding on a bike during a cross-country competition, sat in the car for a few worrying seconds as the flames spread before stepping out and watching the fire from close distance, like a barbecue in his homeland.
Asked why he took so long to get out of the car, he laconically replied: “I was trying to get the fire extinguisher out but I couldn’t. I had my overalls on.”
The ill-luck occurred on the same track where three years previously he went into the race with a 14-point lead in the championship, only to see his only chance of a title end in seconds, when he spun in wet conditions, drifted across the track and was collected by the onrushing Mercedes of Nico Rosberg.
Webber departs F1 at the end of the season to go back to sports-car racing, and after a wretched run of outs in 2013, his fortunes can only improve.
His star-crossed 2013 had its low point at the Malaysian Grand Prix where he led until Vettel ignored team orders and overtook him. Then in the next race in China, a fuel bowser problem in qualifying pushed him to the back of the grid, followed by a wheel coming off during the race.
Yet to win a race this season, the Australian’s F1 career is coming to a fittingly frustrating end.