Mark Webber has reflected on the "bizarre" sequence of events that led to his Formula 1 debut with Minardi and his "embarrassing" trip to the podium.
Webber made his F1 debut in the 2002 Australian Grand Prix and speaking on F1 Unscripted with Heineken he explained how the opportunity to drive for Minardi arose.
“It was really a bizarre sequence of events," said Webber. "I’d done Formula 3000, a step below Formula 1, and I was looking – I'd done some test driving with Benetton but trying to get on to the grid with a full-time seat, that’s a huge challenge for any driver.
“At the time, Paul Stoddard owned the Minardi Formula 1 team. The first race of the season was in Melbourne and I thought at the time, or the promoter of the grand prix at the time was Ron Walker and he was behind [it].
“He was in Bernie’s [Ecclestone] ear, he was in Paul’s ear to say why can’t we give him at least a crack at Minardi for the first few races and my first contract was actually only for two grands prix. It was a two race contract."
“I was going down there to a very humble team, the worst team on the grid on paper in terms of finance, in terms of size, in terms of performance from the car and the engine, everything was vastly inferior to what was at the front of the grid and I took that with both hands and the race was wild to say the least.
“All day long I do not know how that race was not red flagged.”
The race had started with Ralf Schumacher leaping his Williams over Rubens Barrichello's Ferrari, an incident that caused numerous retirements and a young Webber to think, "Game on. There’s going to be some big attrition here."
In modern F1, drivers would have completed numerous race distances in testing ahead of the season, but Webber claims his longest run going into the race was just 17 consecutive laps in Valencia.
Miraculously, Webber found himself in a points scoring position with only a few laps to go, points in 2002 only going down to sixth place.
He added: "Mika Salo [in the Toyota] arrived on me late with a few laps to go and with a superior car advantage. I was like, ‘There’s no way you’re coming past. I’m going to make this little black baby as wide as I can.’.
“Ultimately, there was actually some radiator coolant down at turn three which had been there for the whole race.
“He tried to attack me down into turn three and I though, ‘If I send him the long way round he might have a look at that coolant’ and sure enough he turned in a bit later and then look at that. Around he goes.
“That was poetry in my mirrors."
Although finishing two laps down on race winner Michael Schumacher, Webber came home fifth, scoring two points, and was immediately rewarded with a contract extension to cover the entire season.
Asked about his celebratory trip to the podium, Webber said: “I was embarrassed.
"To be honest to be on the podium there, that was embarrassing. I want to be here in my own merit to get a top three one day but they dragged me up there and it was a big day.”
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