Will it finally be gold for Mark Webber after a long journey?

The 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup title will be decided less than an hour from our Editor in Chief’s front door – so why did he fly long haul to Bahrain for the World Endurance Championship finale this weekend? Only he can tell you…

Will it finally be gold for Mark Webber after a long journey?
Podium: winners Mark Webber celebrates with Champagne
Mark Webber, Porsche Team
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
Podium: race winners Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley, Porsche Team
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
Mark Webber, Super Nova
275 Grands Prix for Minardi
Third place Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing and second place Lewis Hamilton, McLaren Mercedes
Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing RB9
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
FIA Formula One World Championship: Mark Webber, Red Bull
Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing and Bernie Ecclestone, President and CEO of Formula One Management

So why Sakhir and not Homestead this weekend? It’s a question I asked myself a few times on the 15-hour trek from Miami to Bahrain, via Qatar.

The easy way out would have been to simply drive to my local track Homestead, and see if Jeff Gordon can clinch an incredible fifth Cup crown, whether Kevin Harvick will go back-to-back or if Kyle Busch or Martin Truex will join the elite.

So why put myself through the pain of a 30-hour round trip travel marathon instead?

I’m blaming Mark Webber. It struck me when I was talking to him in Austin a few months back that finally a championship was once again well within his grasp. And we go back a long way…

I covered his first-ever crack at a series victory in Formula Ford in England back in 1996 (I first met him at the FFord Festival the year before), and then his impressive rookie campaign in British F3 a year later which opened the door to a Mercedes factory deal in GTs.

He was unfortunate not to win the ’98 FIA crown despite five wins, and then came the nightmare of Le Mans 1999 – I can vividly recall speaking to him after his first flip of the weekend, and then to his dad Al after the second.

Then it was back to single-seaters, and strong – if again unsuccessful – title bids in F3000 in 2000 and ‘01.

Of course, I followed his minnow-to-top-team rise in Formula 1, and finally he seemed to be in the right place at the right time at Red Bull – only for Sebastian Vettel to come along and spoil his party.

Amazingly, after such his long and storied career, Mark Webber has yet to win a racing championship. In anything. Ever. 

This time, more than any other time…

This weekend he stands on the cusp of World Endurance Championship glory. Along with Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard – two great drivers in their own right, who Webber is always quick to praise – he’s on pole position to finally nail a championship.

After the race in Austin, I raised the prospect with him. He laughed, a little nervously (just as you would when you’d like to punch someone in the face for pointing it out) and gave a “yeah mate, would be nice”.

Webber is in that ‘much closer to the end of his career than the start’ phase, and only he can answer the question how longer he’ll continue to race. So you wonder how many more chances he’ll get at that elusive title.

Two of my journalist colleagues have polarizing views of Webber: one thinks he’s the epitome of an old-school racer who can beat anyone given the right equipment, someone who truly lives up to his ‘Aussie Grit’ tag and can beat anyone on his day.

The other thinks he’s a habitual ‘choker’, with a soft underside that is exposed at crucial moments.

My opinion? I think the truth lies somewhere in between. I don’t doubt his ability behind the wheel, he’s proved that he can hustle a racing car to its absolute limit, but I believe there’s been a slight element of mental fragility to his game; self-doubts that make him error-prone at critical times.

To his credit, however, he’s never shied away from all the fights along the way, and been self-critical when he’s underperformed compared to some of the world’s very best drivers.

All the more reason to get it nailed at Sakhir this Saturday to prove his doubters wrong and make his first ever title success an FIA World Championship.

As he’s fond of saying, I expect him to “keep boxing” right until the end on Saturday.

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