MANAMA, April 19, 2013 (AFP) - Mark Webber is set to start his 200th Formula One race in Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix -- a landmark that will confirm the Red Bull driver's place in the sport's Hall of Fame.
As a never-say-die and utterly competitive Australian sportsman, he is the epitome of a man who has done it the hard way, even if few would envy his misfortune in having ruthless world champion Sebastian Vettel as a team-mate.
Webber, however, is made of the stuff that creates fighters, not excuses, and, after an early season spell overshadowed by Vettel's refusal to obey team orders in Malaysia -- where the German "stole" victory from his team-mate -- he is ready to bounce back in his own way.
A sharp haircut that appears to have taken 10 years off his appearance may be a signal of his intentions but as it was apparently an accident -- "the guy was talking to me and I didn't want to stop him," admitted Webber -- it betrays little of his inner thoughts.
The only certainty is that he will be as committed, focussed and competitive as ever, with little desire to accommodate his team-mate's
personal whims, for the rest of this year.
From a modest springboard as the son of a motorcycle dealer in remote Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Webber has climbed to the top and, to his own sometimes quiet fury, has the role of team-mate to triple world champion Vettel who, at 25, is 11 years his junior.
After motor-cycle racing and karting, Webber embarked on a 17-year journey from the Australian Formula Ford Championship via the British Formula Ford and Formula Three series, two years in sportscar racing and then the climb from test driver for Benetton and back-of-the-grid scrapper for Minardi to his current role at Red Bull.
Along the way, he has overcome serious injuries and other less obvious setbacks. He has fully earned his soubriquet "Aussie Grit".
Few would argue that he has proved his dogged determination, racing prowess and jaw-clenched stoicism in the face of various misfortunes and challenges more than most, if it not all, of his contemporaries.
Fellow-Australian Paul Stoddart, who supported Webber's early career and gave him a chance when he purchased the Minardi team, shared much of the ride.
"Mark is a great bloke," he said. "He has worked for everything he's got."
On his debut for Minardi, at Melbourne in 2002, Webber finished fifth, the crowd flooded across the circuit and an impromptu, wild podium ceremony that was purely Aussie took place. It was uncontrollable and beyond the normal protocol policed strictly at each race meeting.
"I never believed it could happen like that," said Stoddart. "It was the craziest, most memorable afternoon I have ever seen in F1."
From Minardi, Webber moved on to Jaguar, then Williams and then Red Bull -- the drinks company having bought the former Jaguar team -- to establish himself as a racer and a winner.
Despite his reputation for being pursued by bad luck, the victim of a myriad variety of car failures and unexpected communication problems, he has managed to collect nine victories and take 11 pole positions.
As a racer, his reputation is intact. As a man, he is known for his honesty, if not bluntness, and his open approachability. He cares about his sport and its fans and was one of the first drivers to question the issue of human rights in Bahrain more than two years ago.
As he prepares for his 200th start, he is unlikely to care for such statistics and records. For Webber, the next contest is the one that matters and, as always, complications permitting, he will race to win.