UK, July 1st, 2013 (F1plus/E.Marshall).- No matter when he put pen to paper or what sparked his decision, there was no sign of regret from Mark Webber as he finally confirmed his plans for next year onwards. In typical fashion the Australian timed his announcement to perfection, on the eve of a race which had been so kind to him down the years.
“The timing is perfect to join a fresh programme. It’s a sensational challenge and opportunity for my future to work with one of the most famous marques in motorsport.” Those were his words.
Of course the decision will be tinged with sadness, not just from the driver but from all with a keen interest in the sport. Despite failing to secure that elusive World Championship, Webber has been a loyal servant to Formula One since his debut for Minardi in 2002. Through all the triumphs and disappointments, his motivation never waned; his determination on track and forthrightness off it earning the respect of fans as well as his peers.
Naturally, this heart-on-sleeve approach meant that aggravation was never far away and Webber found himself at the centre of many tiffs throughout his eleven years. If anything his political skills were just as apparent as those on track, blessed with that uncanny knack of appearing as the victim even if he too shared some of the blame.
Nevertheless, Webber’s achievements in Formula One must be respected, with a hatful of heroic drives and major trophies from some of the sport’s greatest races.
But this shouldn’t be seen as the end to Mark Webber’s career at the top, nor should his destination be seen as below the realms of Grand Prix racing.
Though it fails to generate the same levels of coverage, the world of Sportscars is a lucrative game and one which provides some of the greatest racing of all. Even with the arrival and assistance of Audi, endurance racing has always been popular with many intrepid fans and since the reformation of the World Endurance Championship; this interest has begun to become more and more widespread. Ultimately the 24 Hours of Le Mans remains unchallenged as the race of the year. No matter how hard it tries no Grand Prix can live up to it and the inclusion of big fields and more teams’ show that it is in rude health and is growing year on year. Figures from last month’s Le Mans 24-Hours only underline this, with record television audiences as well as a huge jump in the likes of Social media interaction.
The racing present an entirely different set of circumstances to modern Formula One. Most events are set as a series of flat out sprints; drivers have to contend with multiple classes on track and work alongside fellow co-drivers for overall glory. Competition is also high, with multiple battles in GT, close and unpredictability amongst the LMP2 entrants as well as significant manufacturer support in the top class – which will only be heightened with the arrival or Porsche.
All of this and more may well have played on the mind of Webber when making his decision, along with his own current situation. Out of contract at the end of the year and at 36, the Australian would be hard pressed to argue that his options would not have been limited – having reached the glass ceiling at Red Bull and with no front running seats appearing available. Rather than accepting a drive in a slower car or indeed the thought of seeking a budget, Webber is wise to cut his losses and secure a rewarding long-term deal with a name as synonymous as Porsche, especially with so few spots existing throughout motor sport as a whole.
Webber will have 12 races to earn his 10th victory or more in his Formula 1 career. (Mark Thompson/Getty)
Of course Webber is no stranger to Le Mans or sportscar racing, finishing second in the FIA GT championship alongside brief flirtations in the endurance event when driving for Mercedes. His signing is a massive coup, not just for his new employers but also the entire WEC as a whole.
Where his decision leaves Red Bull is another matter. Certainly the popular choice appears to be Kimi Raikkonen and such a signature would probably do the Milton Keynes a world of good. Whilst Sebastian Vettel remains the centrepiece of the dynasty, his recent domination has thrown up plenty of negativity from some quarters. Therefore the arrival of the Lotus star would help re-energise interest in the brand, and provide a fascinating inter-team battle.
Still such a move would throw into question the usefulness of Toro Rosso or the talents of its current drivers. Both Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne have plied their trades thanks to Red Bull, put in strong performances when the machinery has allowed and would expect to receive fair consideration from the powers that be. The former already has the support of out-going Webber and this may prove pivotal if it does indeed become a straight fight between the two.
Whether his countryman will have any bearing on the decision is questionable, nevertheless he can still have a huge impact on the remainder of this season should the form he showed at Silverstone carry over. The fact Nurburgring was the scene of his debut victory and that Hungary produced one of his greatest drives stands him in good stead in the short-term at least.
Therefore it will be no surprise should Webber stand on the top step of the podium at least one more time before he heads to pastures new.