Webber geared up to make his mark in Melbourne again

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 March, 2006, 12:00am

You've got to hand it to Melbourne; it knows how to do major sport well.

They're still sweeping up the fireworks after the closing ceremony for the Commonwealth Games.

The City has already hosted the first tennis open of the year, showing off yet more state of the art sporting facilities. Now comes the Formula One circus, about the only thing that would have been able to drown out the noise of the weekend pyrotechnics.

Having been to Melbourne several times myself, I can see why this bustling city has been ranked second only to Vancouver as the best place on the planet to live. If you like your sport, then surely it is propelled past the east coast of Canada. Albert Park will make for a slightly more laid back venue than many on the race calendar. Most of the local fans heading to this makeshift circuit will be 'barracking' - as the Aussies describe it - for one man, the home hero Mark Webber.

Webber may not come from Melbourne itself, but this race certainly holds a special place in his heart. He made his debut here in 2002 and had an outstanding race, managing to come fifth in a Minardi, much to the delight (and probably astonishment) of his boss and fellow Aussie, Paul Stoddard.

But he knows that this season he has to make his mark, more importantly he has to stamp his authority on his teammate, Nico Rosberg. Webber has been touted as the next Schumacher (Michael that is, not Ralf), but we have been left waiting for the next leap in performance.

To some extent he can blame the machinery for the fact he hasn't shone as brightly as we might have thought in the last season or two. After Minardi came Jaguar where he did well. But more was expected when he moved to Williams last year. He managed a podium place at Monaco, thanks no doubt to his lightening one lap qualifying pace, but all too often he disappointed. The car wasn't great, granted, but until Nick Heidfeld picked up an injury, he was in danger of being put in the shade by his teammate.

This year he would have been pleasantly surprised by how competitive the Williams FW28 has been. The Cosworth engine has been up to the task and once again Webber has the machinery to make people sit up and take notice.

However, he still has the teammate problem. With rookie Rosberg arriving this year, Webber might have thought he'd bring all his experience to bear to be undisputed top dog in the Williams garage. It hasn't quite worked out that way. He finished a place ahead of his young rival in the first race, but the media didn't seem to notice after Rosberg blasted from the back of the pack into the points with a fastest lap to boot.

In Malaysia it got worse. The pair lined up on row two, but Webber was behind his teammate. Come the start, Rosberg veered over towards Webber in an effort to keep ahead of him. Williams, let alone Webber were none too pleased with the manoeuvre, and there have been words.

But the incident should serve to stiffen Webber's resolve. He's a nice man, but he's going to need Schumacher-like ruthlessness if he's not going to fall by the wayside in Formula One. First job is to put his teammate firmly in his place, and with such a precocious talent sharing the Williams garage that won't be easy. No matter how the car fares against other teams, it's a level playing field against the other Williams driver and that is why this battle is so important.

He also has to get on the podium on a regular basis. That may be the best he can hope for with the current car, but it will show he's on top of his game and will put him in the shop window for one of the top teams come the end of the season.

Anything less and his chance to become world champion in the future may well have passed him by.