Motorsport fans will have to come to terms with not seeing Mark Webber behind the wheel of a racing car in anger from next year, fortunately we have a lot to remember him by.
Hard-working, real, feet on the ground, old school, classic driving style, loves Porsches. Just some of the things you will hear about Mark Webber if you ask around. The straight-talking Aussie who is calling time on his career as a professional racing driver once the 2016 FIA World Endurance Championship season is done and dusted.
At the age of 40 he is still extremely fit and on the top of his game as a racing driver, as was proven by winning the 2015 WEC driver’s championship with his Porsche LMP1-Hybrid teammates Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley. After a shaky start to his title defense, Webber and the #1 Porsche team won three straight races following the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
So why is he considering retirement if he still has something left in the tank? That could have something to do with his straightforward approach to life that would have taught him that nothing lasts forever. Change is as constant in motorsport as it is in life and so Webber has decided to move on after having achieved more than most in his profession would be able to before either age or circumstance gets the better of him.
In the context of WEC itself, Webber was at the forefront of the change that saw 2014 driver’s and manufacturer’s champions Toyota left in the dust by Porsche as well as Audi in 2015. In fact, it has taken almost two years for the Japanese giant to get back to winning ways in the arms/spending race that is the hybrid class of the LMP1 category.
Looking back how most racing fans will know him for, Formula 1, Webber found himself to be on the receiving end of change in 2011 when the sport got a new control tyre supplier in Pirelli. With a brief to force a certain number of pit stops rather than go for all out performance like its predecessor Bridgestone, Pirelli’s tyre characteristics didn’t suit a driver like Webber who renowned racing driver coach Rob Wilson described as “traditional”.
“Mark had a very classic and traditional driving style,” Wilson told autoX. “He was the kind of driver who would always sort out the car before turning into a corner. A real hard-worker who initially got lucky thanks to Paul Stoddart giving him a drive with Minardi but he always made the best of the chances he got.”
Wilson was, in fact, with Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner and design head Adrian Newey in 2006 when the team had not yet reached the heights they would from 2009 and were looking for a capable driver to partner veteran David Coulthard.
“The team were still not big enough to sign a Kimi Raikkonen or a Fernando Alonso so they looked around for the best a midfield team could get,” said Wilson. “And Mark was without a doubt the best of the available drivers on account of his honest and hard-working approach.
“It was a bit like when Williams signed Alan Jones back in the late 70s before they were a big team as they couldn’t get a Niki Lauda. But as the team grew, Jones also grew with them and won the world championship in 1980!
“Of course Mark had a certain Sebastian Vettel to contend with otherwise he also grew with Red Bull and would surely have been a world champion.”
Away from the racetrack, Webber has also made himself known as an expert television pundit on F1 – he certainly has the credentials for it! – for Channel 4, which is where he is in contact with former teammate Coulthard as well as Karun Chandhok, who can be heard on live broadcasts in India.
From his time with Webber as colleagues as well as being on the grid with him, Chandhok recalls the Australian as an inhabitant of the “real world.”
“Mark very much has his feet on the ground and has no wish to be in the fake world,” said Chandhok. “It’s the reason why he never wanted to stay in Monaco and chose to live in the English countryside because he loves to cycle.
“He also has a genuine love for all sport and especially motorsport. I asked him what he was going to do after he retires and he said ‘well I think I may just take part in the Formula Ford festival, I’ll probably get my arse kicked but it will be a lot of fun!’”
All the best to Webber for whatever life has in store for him.