SILVERSTONE, United Kingdom, June 27, 2013 (AFP) - Mark Webber on Thursday confirmed what many close observers suspected when he announced that he will be leaving Red Bull and Formula One at the end of this season to switch to sportscar racing with Porsche's LMP1 team.
The Australian, who will be 37 in August, has been expected to make a move ever since his Red Bull team-mate, triple world champion German Sebastian Vettel, disobeyed team orders to "steal" victory from him at the Malaysian Grand Prix in March.
Webber made the announcement by posting a Porsche statement on his website markwebber.com.
"It's an honour for me to join Porsche at its return to the top category in Le Mans and in the sports car World Endurance Championship and be part of the team," he said.
"Porsche has written racing history as a manufacturer and stands for outstanding technology and performance at the highest level."
Red Bull said separately that a decision to replace Webber would be made later in the season.
But Finland's Kimi Raikkonen, the 2007 world champion who returned to F1 with Lotus last year after a spell in rallying, is expected to be a leading contender.
At 33, he retains the pace and has the race craft to be a good replacement for Webber even if Vettel could be reluctant to adopt his allegedly carousing lifestyle.
Another Australian Dan Ricciardo, currently with Toro Rosso, could also be in the frame if he rises to the challenge in the second half of this season and Raikkonen rejects the move.
Webber has previous experience racing in sportscars with Mercedes in 1998/99 before he went back to single-seaters in Formula 3000 en route to joining fellow-Australian Paul Stoddart's Minardi team in F1 in 2002.
He made his debut at Melbourne in the Australian Grand Prix and famously finished fifth, a result that incited such crowd reaction that Webber and Stoddart were required to perform an unofficial podium celebration of their own.
After spells at Jaguar and Williams, he joined Red Bull from 2008 and became the solid, reliable and dogged racer who built the foundations for Vettel's rise to fame after he switched to join the team from their junior sister outfit Toro Rosso.
He became a race-winner and title contender with the team but was unable to match team-mate Vettel's success and has had to endure a turbulent relationship with the pragmatic 25-year-old German in a team in which, despite protestations by the management, he has always been seen as the second driver.
After winning the British Grand Prix in 2010, having been given second use of new parts for his car, he responded to team chief Christian Horner's effusive praise over the team radio by saying: "Not bad for a second driver."
His announcement -- and his feisty relations with Vettel -- is unlikely to see the young German given many favours between now and the season's end.
Born in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Webber has started 203 Grands Prix, winning nine. He has secured 11 pole positions and recorded 15 fastest laps.
Webber is certain to be at his determined and dogged best this weekend as he bids to complete a hat-trick of Silverstone victories in five years.
He has finished on the podium in all of the last four races, winning twice, in 2010 and 2012. He took pole in 2011.
Webber has used the soubriquet "Aussie grit" for his Twitter identity and manifested the same attitude in his life, proving it in the manner in which he recovered from serious injuries following a cycling accident when he was hit by a car in Tasmania in November 2008.
He broke his leg but recovered sufficiently to race with pins in the limb at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne the following March.
Webber said he was excited to take on a new challenge but had always intended to leave.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner added: "His achievements in Formula One are extensive and I am sure he will continue to push hard and build on that record until the end of the season.
"We support Mark's decision, he has been an excellent addition to the team since joining us in 2007 and we wish him all the best in the next stages of his career."