Posted on the Formula 1 website on 19 November 2013.
Mark Webber burst onto the Formula One scene with a terrific fifth place for Minardi at his home Grand Prix in Australia in 2002. Since then he’s won nine races (including Monaco twice), scored 13 pole positions and stood on the podium 41 times. Now, on the eve of his last Grand Prix, the popular Australian discusses walking away from F1 racing, the highs and lows of his 12-year career, and unfinished business at Le Mans…
Q: Mark, one more race to go and then your F1 career is history…
Mark Webber: Can’t wait! (laughs)
Q: …now that it is so close, are there any thoughts of regret?
MW: Of course not. It’s been great, but I need the next chapter now.
Q: You’ve spent more than a decade in Formula One racing – and now you walk out of the paddock that easily?
MW: What’s the option? You can’t be half pregnant! You do it or you don’t. And do something else.
Q: You’re not leaving one year too early?
MW: No. Not at all.
Q: When you look at your time with Red Bull Racing – alongside Sebastian Vettel – always being close to winning the title yourself, where would you say things didn’t go in your favour?
MW: Ah, 2010 was close. 2012 was also pretty good. Ultimately I haven’t had enough points at the end of the year. (laughs)
Q: That is the maths behind not winning the title. But to get there ‘things’ must have happened…
MW: Not quick enough!
Q: Could it be that you haven’t had enough elbows?
MW: I think passing cars was the problem!
Q: Fernando Alonso called you an ‘old school’ driver – a gentleman driver. Are gentlemen not in demand any longer?
MW: I was on the transition of obviously a different generation. Maybe call it ‘old school’… I don’t know how the new generation feels – probably a bit differently. When looking back, back then we drove with two pedals, with three pedals, with clutch, without clutch – in a word: very different cars than they are now. When we were traveling there was no Internet and so on. But then look at the seventies – the sport was very different then. I don’t really know what ‘old school’ means, but yes, I am a bit old for the sport – and I am not worried about being a bit old. I had a good time – and now I am looking for new stuff.
Q: Your relationship with Sebastian was tense. Red Bull motorsport consultant Dr Helmut Marko believes that this started in 2008 in Fuji, where you had eaten fish the evening before, you were throwing up in the race, you wanted to stop but overcame the nausea, you were in second place with a clear chance of winning – and then Toro Rosso youngster Sebastian hit you from behind. Is he right?
MW: He’s wrong. It was a good fight with Lewis (Hamilton) and Seb. Actually it wasn’t Lewis’ best time in that safety-car phase back then. There was no serious issue with Seb.
Q: What were your best F1 moments?
MW: Getting into Formula One – that without doubt was a massive moment for me. I got there in quite a tough way. For many, many years I was trying to break into Formula One and finally got there – that was super rewarding for me to get there on merit. My first contract was for three races! I didn’t do too badly, and now, 250 races later, I can say I’ve survived. Your first win is another massive event. You do win in all the categories below Formula One – as that is the entrance ticket that you need – but then to win in Formula One is a whole different matter. And more importantly, I won in my own style. Special moments were winning Monte Carlo and Silverstone. Of course on the other hand not winning the 2010 title was one of the toughest moments – but that’s life: if you shoot for the stars you sometimes miss! So yes, that was very disappointing, but I am still super proud of taking the fight for the title until the very last race. And it was not an easy year fighting for the title. Ha, I did not pick the easy year – I did not pick a ‘Jenson’ year! (laughs) I picked the year after, which was pretty tough. But if you have such a long career you have many tough moments. Valencia – a big crash there – and the Williams times – difficult moments – but that’s part of a driver’s life if you do 12 years in that sport: you do have ups and downs.
Q: When you compare your Mercedes crash at Le Mans and the Valencia crash in the Red Bull – both of them somersaults – which was more frightening?
MW: Probably the Le Mans crashes were worse, as it was not my fault. Back then a lot of cars were ‘flying’, not just the Mercedes cars. The regulations were tricky back then. Valencia was a bit tough to get over because it was a big shunt and the next time I got back in the car was at Silverstone – and that’s not the easiest place for ‘normalizing’ again! So it was incredible to win there, as the build-up to the race was not the easiest one.
Q: What are the worst decisions you’ve made?
MW: I always made them work for me. You can have perfect decisions all the way through, but that’s probably not me, so you have to live with your decisions and go with it. There is the saying: you make your own bed, now you go and sleep in it…
Q: But there must be things that you would have changed if you could…
MW: Not many to be fair. Who would have ever envisioned what happened with Red Bull Racing? When I joined the team it was a ‘holiday team’ and no one would have dared to envision the success that we then had. After Williams it looked difficult, but it turned out to be a good decision, even though at that time everybody said that it was a stupid decision – and it turned out to be a sensational success story. The Williams decision was probably not that fantastic, as they didn’t keep up with the form and progress that they had had with Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf (Schumacher). You would need to have a crystal ball! Look at next year – no one can say if the decision that you make is a sound one.
Q: Wouldn’t it have been interesting for you to stay one more year to see all these huge technical changes? Wouldn’t that have been the ultimate F1 challenge for you?
MW: Sure, but I will have that with Porsche. Technically they are very advanced and the closest thing to a Formula One car. And it is there where my next chapter is. You have to let go. I accept that I am a not super young any more. I want a different environment, a different series – to get a bit more balance. Most of the decision is for the off-track stuff. You want to have more balance away from the racing.
Q: Did you always feel good at Red Bull?
MW: Well, everything is well documented: there have been tough moments at times – but it is a thing of the past now.
Q: What are you expecting from your new life at Porsche?
MW: Well, it will not be a rocket ship to success. We have to work hard. But it is a super famous company – one of the most famous automotive brands in the world – so that is very exciting for me. And I still have unfinished business at Le Mans. I loved racing at Le Mans, even if we had tough times there. So I am going there to do better in the future. Ha, but back then I had unfinished business in Formula One. I came to Europe to race in Formula One, so I had to get there, but now it’s Le Mans time again. Never leave unfinished business behind! (laughs) And I will meet people I have been working with in Formula One who are now working for Porsche – and that gives me a lot of confidence.
Q: So winning in Le Mans is high on your agenda?
MW: Not straightaway, maybe, but in the future, yes. It will not happen overnight. It is not guaranteed success just because it’s Porsche. We will have to work hard for that success.
Q: When will you start there?
MW: In January. Before that I will take some time off to detox from Formula One. (laughs)