The decade that was: F1 in the 2010s

A lot can change in a decade. This time ten years ago, Jenson Button and Brawn were the reigning F1 champions, Fernando Alonso was preparing to take on the mantle of Ferrari’s title hopes, and a 12-year-old Max Verstappen was just about to step up to international karting.

As we approach the start of another new year and a new decade, we’ve taken a look back at what’s characterised F1 throughout the 2010s and how these last ten years might be remembered.

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The decade of dominance

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room first. When people look back on F1 in the 2010s, they will see one headline figure: that Red Bull and Mercedes cleaned up every available title between them, and won 149 out of the decade’s 198 races. It’s the first time in F1’s history that two teams have had such a stranglehold on the sport—and hopefully the last.

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The decade of record-breaking

Sebastian Vettel, the youngest-ever World Champion. Lewis Hamilton, the most pole positions. Max Verstappen, the youngest-ever Grand Prix entrant and winner. Kimi Raikkonen, the fastest-ever F1 lap. Mercedes, the most consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships. The 2010s weren’t just about dominance, they were about excellence.

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The decade of comebacks

When Michael Schumacher came out of retirement to lead Mercedes in 2010, he probably had no idea he’d started a trend. Before long, Kimi Raikkonen was back in F1 with Lotus, Pedro de la Rosa and Narain Karthikeyan were brought out of the noughties, and Brendon Hartley, Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon were all given second chances by Red Bull after being dropped from the junior team.

But of course, the biggest comebacks of all have to be Felipe Massa returning after being placed in an induced coma in 2009, and Robert Kubica stepping back into an F1 cockpit this year for the first time since his 2011 rally accident.

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The decade of rules changes

Fans of F1’s rulebook were treated to an absolute feast over the last ten seasons. After 2009’s massive aerodynamics shift, the tweaks, refinements and total overhauls kept on coming. DRS, stepped noses, the halo. V6 turbos, the virtual safety car, and the fastest lap point. And of course, knockout qualifying and 2014’s double points finale. Not all of them were popular, but they’ve certainly kept us on our toes over the years.

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The decade of silly season

Lewis Hamilton leaving McLaren for Mercedes. Kimi Raikkonen returning to Ferrari, then to Sauber. Sebastian Vettel leaving Red Bull for Ferrari. Fernando Alonso rejoining McLaren. Nico Rosberg’s shock retirement. Red Bull’s midseason merry-go-rounds. F1’s driver market has never been tame, but the 2010s really set it alight.

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The decade F1 returned to the US

F1 has spent a lot of time since the disastrous 2005 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis trying to repair its relationship with the States. Things started going in the right direction with the return of the US Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas and Alexander Rossi’s brief F1 appearances with Manor in 2015. But now with Haas on the grid and Liberty Media in charge of the sport itself, F1’s standing in the US finally looks to be on the mend.

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The decade of farewells to old friends

Rubens Barrichello. Michael Schumacher. Mark Webber. Jenson Button. Nico Rosberg. Felipe Massa. Fernando Alonso. Robert Kubica. So many key figures of F1’s recent past hung up their helmets over the last ten years. Thank goodness we still have Kimi Raikkonen for another year at least.

What’s been your favourite moment from the last ten years of Formula One? Let us know in the comments below.

Mark Webber – Red Bull’s Long Stint Man

Mark Webber made his debut at his home Grand Prix in 2002, driving for the now-defunct Minardi team. When the-then 26-year-old made his debut, no-one could’ve expected points but no-one would’ve thought that the unassuming Aussie would go on to be such a role-model and ambassador for F1. In this feature, I look back on Mark Webber’s stint at Red Bull – a car he became synonymous with from 2007 right up to his retirement in 2013.

Webber made a bold decision to join Red Bull in 2007. The team at the time had only one podium, which was a lucky one at that – at the 2006 Monaco GP, following the retirement of Jarno Trulli’s Toyota just a few laps from the end. Webber himself was also unproven, with just one podium to his name, at the same Grand Prix the year before.

The start to his Red Bull life was nothing spectacular. It took him until the United States Grand Prix to score points – the 7th race of the year. The next time he would score points would be at the European Grand Prix, hosted at the Nurburgring – which turned into be an iconic and memorable circuit for the effervescent Australian.

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The race will be one that many of us remember for different reasons. For me, it was because, as an 8-year-old boy, I was listening to Murray Walker commentate for the first time in my life, on the radio in the UK. There was carnage at turn one, with a quarter of the field sliding off in the monsoon-like conditions – Webber was NOT one of them. Mark went on to finish a whole minute behind the winner but it was enough to secure him his first podium for Red Bull. There would be just one more points-finish in 2007, at the Belgian GP where he was 7th.

For 2008, he remained with Red Bull and finished eight races but this time, without a podium finish. His best result was 4th at the Monaco GP – a circuit that was quickly becoming one of his favourites. Just three retirements in the 2008 season also suggested that whilst Mark as a driver was becoming a more complete competitor, Red Bull as a team were making big steps forwards.

2009 beckoned and for once, the grid had been well and truly shaken up. McLaren-Mercedes and Ferrari were both struggling, whilst the likes of Brawn and Red Bull took over as the top-two teams. Webber was undoubtedly outshone by his young teammate and Red Bull new-kid, Sabastian Vettel. Webebr’s first podium of the season came in China with 2nd – his best result ever at the time. This was followed by Spanish Grand Prix success and third place, two races later. From the Turkish GP to the Hungarian GP, Webber took four podiums – including his first ever victory, at the Nurburgring in Germany.

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Years of doubt had plagued Webber. Journalists and TV pundits doubting him throughout his career.At the time, Australia was also coming good in other Motorsport areas. Casey Stoner was a regular race-winner in MotoGP whilst Troy Bayliss had become World Superbike champion for a third time in 2008. Josh Brookes was a revelation in British Superbikes and Cameron Donald was continuing to take the road racing scene and the Isle of Man TT by storm. Mark Webber had completed the set of Australia’s Motorsport achievements towards the end of the naughties. He became the first Australian to win a race in F1 since Alan Jones at the Caesar Palace Grand Prix, way back in 1981. The drought of Australian F1 success was over and Webber was now on his way. After the Hungarian GP of that year however, it all went wrong. Just two more podiums came his way, with a win in Brazil and 2nd in the Abu Dhabi GP placing him 4th overall in the standings – his highest at the time. However, in the words of the man himself, “It was nothing to what 2010 had in store”.

He was quite right too. 2010 was another stellar season. Wins came at the Spanish GP and Monaco GP before a controversial clash with teammate Sebastian Vettel in Turkey occurred. Brits adored him as one of their own and when he won at Silverstone, it was met with great delight. Once more, a win in Hungary proved that he had talent in a Formula 1 car and that he could be a regular threat.

Despite being his most successful season in F1, Mark would have to wait until the final race of the year to become a winner in 2011 – the Brazilian Grand Prix. He finished every race in the points with the exception of the Italian Grand Prix. A damaged front wing tucked under the car at the Parabolica, recording his and the team’s first retirement of the year. Webber finished 3rd in the championship on 258 points.

2012 was disappointing. His first win came in Monaco and his next at Silverstone. However, that was to be his last win in F1. Webber had a poor mid-season and by the time the championship had concluded in Brazil, he was 6th in the championship – his worst championship position since 2008. However, the gritty Wonder from Down Under wasn’t finished.

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2013 would prove to be Webber’s last in Formula 1. However, it wasn’t a boring bow-out. He came to blows with teammate Vettel in the Malaysian Grand Prix, after the German ignored team orders and took the win away from Webber. In June, Mark Webber made the announcement that no-one wanted him to ever make. The humble Australian, who had gone from inconsistent driver to accomplished race winner in just a couple of seasons, was to leave the sport at the end of the season to pursue a new career in the World Endurance Series.

Webber finished his Formula One career with nine wins, forty-two podiums, thirteen pole positions and nineteen fastest laps from 215 race starts. An icon for Australians and an inspiration to any young driver. Webber’s defiance to continue in his early years despite mediocre results earned him a reputation as being one of the most determined and most calculated drivers in the modern era of F1. Whilst the world and F1 paddock has gone PC and Red Tape mad, Webber pushed the boundaries and that is what gave him so many fans worldwide. F1 misses Webber but he will be remembered for his success at Red Bull. A fixture and fitting of the team and by no-means forgotten about.

Webber continues with media duties for Channel 4, with their F1 coverage and also interviews the drivers on the podium after the racing.

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Multi 21: The Battle of the Bulls

Team orders are a topic that often divides fans of Formula One. They are a critical, but at times, unwelcome part of motorsport. Throughout the years, the conflict of whether team orders should be implemented to manipulate results has come to the forefront on a number of occasions.

Arguably, the most famous case of team orders was in 2002 when Ferrari’s Rubens Barrichello gifted the race win to his teammate Michael Schumacher in Austria. It was a decision that caused outcry throughout the paddock and the racing world. Schumacher was dominating proceedings and his closest competitor was 21 points behind, making Ferrari’s decision seem a pointless one. After the 2002 season ended, the FIA announced that orders that influenced a race result would be banned.

In 2010, despite the ban still been in place, Ferrari once more showed their blatant disregard for the rules at the German Grand Prix. “Fernando is faster than you.” uttered by Felipe Massa’s race engineer, Rob Smedley, is now a phrase that has found it’s place in Formula One history. Massa proceeded to allow his teammate and title contender Fernando Alonso through to clinch the win. However, after the race, Ferrari were reprimanded with a $100,000 fine. It was shortly after this incident that the ban on team orders were lifted.

The relaxation of the ban brought about a situation that would be discussed several years later, that would be ingrained into the history of Formula One. The year was 2013. The previous three seasons had been dominated by a new force. Red Bull had claimed the crown of the constructor’s championship and the driver’s championship for the third consecutive time and this season, the aim was no different. They wanted to continue to build on the success they had forged with the dynamic partnership of three time world champion Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber.

Credit: Getty Images / Red Bull Content Pool

Things however, were not rosy within Red Bull. Over the past three years, it was clear that Red Bull seemed to favour Vettel, leading to quips from Webber such as “Not bad for a number two driver.” at the 2010 British Grand Prix. However, Webber continued to perform admirably, often securing podium finishes to cement Red Bull’s standing at the top of the driver’s championship.

The opening race of the 2013 season had not gone to plan for the Austrian based team. Their lead driver Sebastian Vettel had taken pole but thanks to a mistimed pit stop, had to settle for third behind Räikkönen and Alonso. Webber had less luck, struggling with a ECU problem which dropped him to a lowly sixth position. It was not the start that Red Bull had envisioned.

Things had to change in Malaysia. They did, but not in the way they had hoped. Vettel claimed a dominant pole but gambled with dry weather tyres early in the race, falling back several positions on the still-wet track. Webber on the other hand, took over the lead of the race and held the position until the last set of pit stops as Vettel carved his way back through the field. However, as lap 44 began and Webber emerged ahead of Vettel in his final pit stop, the delicate harmony that had existed between the two Red Bull teammates would once more be shattered.

Red Bull had opted to retain their current 1-2 status. They did not want a repeat of the events that unfolded at the 2010 Turkish Grand Prix. The situation had been identical. Webber had fended off a chasing Vettel until fuel saving had left him open to attack. Vettel had dived down the inside but the two teammates collided, sending Vettel spinning into the gravel and out of the race. Webber recovered to take third place. Both drivers blamed the other for the crash. Red Bull team advisor Helmut Marko and team principal Christian Horner were livid and for good reason, their driver’s actions had thrown away the perfect team result.

“Multi map 2-1, multi map 2-1.” was the order given to Vettel in Malaysia as he chased down his teammate, hungry for his first win of the season. Red Bull wanted to preserve their driver’s current positions. However, the three time world champion chose to ignore the order, continuing to press Webber.

Horner chose to intervene at that moment, seeing Vettel on the gearbox of the sister car. He told Vettel to give Webber space and to hold position. But that order was also ignored by Vettel who pressed forward, pulling alongside Webber. Webber fought back, but it was to no avail. Vettel got ahead of the Australian at turn four, going on to claim another victory and the top spot of the driver’s championship. Webber finished second, but he was furious that Vettel had ignored direct team orders.

Tempers flared in the cool-down room as Webber uttered the infamous words “Yeah, Multi 21, Seb. Multi 21.” reinforcing the team orders that Vettel had disregarded. His anger continued into the press conference as he confirmed that Vettel had made his own decisions but he would probably be afforded protection as the main driver at the Austrian outfit.

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Although Vettel apologised at the end of the race, his teammate’s remarks made him withdraw his apology ahead of the next race in China. He claimed that he had not understood the instruction he was given and that Webber did not deserve to win, pointing to the 2012 Brazilian Grand Prix as evidence. Vettel had fought back from last to sixth, only for his progress to be hindered by his teammate. Thankfully, for the championship leader, fellow German Michael Schumacher allowed him to pass, clinching the title by a mere three points.  

It wasn’t until 2015 when Webber was finally able to release his book Aussie Grit that further details on the incident were released. Vettel had sent lawyer’s documents to Red Bull, preventing them from reprimanding him further. By this point, however, the dust had settled on the events and they were a distant memory.

Despite this, the Multi 21 situation changed everything. It is still discussed within fans of motorsport, even today. The team were left embarrassed by Vettel’s comments, the gulf between their two drivers was plain to see. The decision to allow team orders in the sport was once again questioned as fans feared that it diluted the excitement of watching drivers duel without any influence. Despite this animosity, Vettel still claimed his fourth consecutive title in dominating fashion that season. However, it came at the cost of losing Webber. In June 2013, the Australian called time on his eleven year Formula One career, declaring that he was moving on to drive for Porsche on their new LMP1 sportscar programme.

Webber has never stated that the Multi 21 situation alone was reason for him to choose to walk away from the successful team. It seems, rather, to be one of a number of catalysts that forced his decision. He no longer wanted to sit back and watch his teammate get the preferential treatment. It turned out to be a decision worth making as Webber would go on to claim the 2015 WEC championship with teammates Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley.

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Rivalries between teammates have become part of what makes Formula One great. Two men fighting side by side in the same machinery.  Prost and Senna. Mansell and Piquet. Alonso and Hamilton. Hamilton and Rosberg. These names are forever ingrained in the history of the sport together, as fierce competitors in intense battles. Vettel and Webber are no exception to this. Multi 21 however, exposed the ugly side of being teammates, of favouring one driver over the other blatantly played out in the public eye. Team orders have always been a part of motorsport. They always will be as teams push to claim the result that suits them best. Multi 21 was not the first time team orders were issued and ignored, nor will it be the last. It will still remain as one of the great controversies of the sport for years to come, cementing both Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber as fierce competitors during their time together at Red Bull.