Why after 12 years F1 is ‘off my radar’ for Webber

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Mark Webber, Red Bull, Bahrain, 2013Mark Webber’s impending departure to the World Endurance Championship, announced earlier today, will deprive Formula One of a no-nonsense racer’s racer.

He leaves behind many great memories of his 12 years in F1: that fairytale fifth place for Minardi on his debut, the giant-killing qualifying performances for Jaguar, and the maiden win scored despite taking a drive-through penalty are just a few of them.

But Webber will also be missed because of the refreshing frankness with which he addressed the sport. Not for him the mealy-mouthed kowtowing to corporate sensitivities practised by his peers.

Webber possesses both the perspective to see beyond the Formula One bubble and the courage to give voice to his views. While his contemporaries mumble their “for sures” and try not to upset anyone, he gives his own views plain and unvarnished.

One of those days when Webber stood tall was when he told the watching world “there should be no real celebrations today” following the dismal spectacle of F1 returning to Bahrain in 2012. “We can leave. We saw the size of the crowd today,” he said after the race concluded in front of a meagre audience in a country in a state of near martial law

Nor did he hold back his views on the kind of rubbish which passes for a 21st century Grand Prix circuit. He memorably derided Valencia’s woeful excuse for a racing track as being like driving in a supermarket car park – this was before his infamous aerial acrobatics at the circuit in 2010.

The Vettel rivalry

Mark Webber, Red Bull, Interlagos, 2011One year earlier he’d been fortunate to make the start of the season after breaking a leg in a gruelling bike race of his own devising. He was clearly still in pain as he started the new season with a new team mate – Sebastian Vettel. The pair has crossed paths two years earlier when Vettel clumsily drove into Webber behind the Safety Car in Japan.

Webber recovered from his cycling injury to score his first F1 victory in Germany that year, though it came after Vettel had given Red Bull their maiden race win. In 2010 Webber narrowly lost the championship to his team final round. Already there were signs of friction between the two drivers and Red Bull management.

During practice at Silverstone an upgraded front wing was taken from Webber’s car and put on Vettel’s, who was leading the points at the time. The pair clashed on the first lap and Webber won, telling his team it was “not bad for a number two driver”. Webber’s victory in Hungary came after

Heading to the Japanese Grand Prix Webber was leading the championship by 11 points. But he suffered another bike crash, this time injuring his shoulder. He kept quiet about the injury: even his team didn’t find out about it until after the season had ended.

If his 2010 title loss to Vettel was a disappointing close-run thing, his 2011 defeat was utterly crushing. Webber simply couldn’t extract the best from the RB7, which derived much of its performance advantage from its powerful exhaust-blown diffuser. He was closer in 2012 when EBDs were banned, but again the title went to Vettel.

By now the antipathy between the pair was unmistakeable. Ordered to hold station behind his team mate at Silverstone in 2011 Webber refused, hounding Vettel around every corner of the track. He gave his team mate a hard time in the 2012 season finale as well.

This hostility was aggravated by Helmut Marko, the Red Bull motorsport director whose stewardship of the young driver programme brought Vettel to the team. Marko seldom passed up an opportunity to get in a dig at his favourite driver’s team mate.

Most preposterous was Marko’s attempt to lay the blame for a 2010 collision between the pair of them at Istanbul – which was plainly Vettel’s fault – at Webber’s feet, after it cost Red Bull a one-two finish.

Last January Marko laid into Webber again in Red Bull’s in-house magazine: “As soon as his prospects start to look good in the world championship, he has a little trouble with the pressure that this creates. In comparison with Seb?s rising form, it seems to me that Mark?s form somehow flattens out.”

The relationship between the two drivers hit a new low at the second race of the new season. This time it was Vettel’s turn to receive a ‘hold station’ order while following his team mate. He paid as much attention to it as Webber had at Silverstone 19 months previously – but the crucial difference was Vettel succeeded in getting past and took the win.

That left a furious Webber thinking more deeply about his future. “I’ll catch some waves in Australia on my board and I think this will be good medicine for me,” he said at the time. “I had a lot of thoughts going through my mind in the last 15 laps of the Grand Prix so whether the medicine is enough, we?ll see.”

“F1 wasn’t on my radar”

Porsche LMP1 test, Weissach, 2013Webber says the events of Malaysia did not lead to his decision to quit F1. “I?ve had a personal plan and I?ve stuck to it,” he told his official website today. “This is the next chapter.”

“Formula One as a category wasn?t on my radar for 2014,” he added. Perhaps he is being diplomatic by not laying the blame for his departure at the feet of Vettel (or Marko). But it would be no surprise to discover Webber has tired more of F1 than he has of his team mate.

Webber has never disguised his dislike of the gimmicky nature of modern F1, not least the fragile tyres, which he has often struggled to squeeze as much life from as his team mate can.

His choice of words when talking about his decision to leave F1 today was striking. “Formula One is seen as the pinnacle”, he said, – implying that other motor sports might be considered equally challenging.

If any form of motor racing can make that claim at present the World Endurance Championship must rank among them. The cars may be slightly slower than F1 machines over a single lap but they have to cover over ten times the distance.

The engine rules – particularly the use of modern hybrid technology – are more ambitious than F1’s. But what Webber will probably appreciate most is freedom from driving every lap obsessing over tyre degradation.

Webber craves a purer form of racing than F1 can offer at the moment. And he has no qualms about returning to a series in which he survived two huge crashes when driving for Mercedes: “Le Mans in 1999, those cars were very… I think the regulations were quite dangerous,” he said today.

“Look, motor racing is dangerous, I accept that, we all know that. Motor racing is dangerous. Le Mans is a classic race. The cars are not slow there now but I?m not a guy who wants to wrap myself in cotton wool either.”

But Webber is a true racer and even as he prepares to take his leave of Formula One he admits there are parts of it he will miss:

“The drug on the grid, when the guys walk away from the car, that’s the best legal drug you can get. I’m ready to go racing, that’s brilliant.

“But like I say you’ve got to be real with yourself and know there’s a day where you need to go on to the next chapter and that’s what I’m very excited by. You can’t kid yourself and say it’s going to go on forever.”

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62 comments on Why after 12 years F1 is ‘off my radar’ for Webber

  1. Lauri (@f1lauri) said on 28th June 2013, 9:17

    Vettel’s reaction to hearing Webber was leaving: “Yes, YESSS and YESSSSSSSS!!! Thank you guys… (crying)”

  2. KaIIe (@kaiie) said on 28th June 2013, 9:43

    After reading this article, I think Webber reminds me most of Gerhard Berger: fast; but something always comes up (usually his team mate), outspoken, a “nice bloke”.

  3. Melchior (@melchior) said on 28th June 2013, 9:53

    A great article Keith.
    I think Webber’s retirement has been on the radar for a few months now,Particularly since Malaysia.
    He worked very hard to finally get himself into F1 and i personally will be sorry to see him go and some of my interest in F1 will go with him.
    I keenly await his autobiography unless of course he scores himself Red Bull sponsorship in his new pursuit.

  4. Tomsk (@tomsk) said on 28th June 2013, 9:55

    He’ll still get to race on his beloved Bahrain and Shanghai tracks. I suspect they’re on the WEC calendar to score some political brownie points for the FIA – but also, in fairness, racing there must sell a load of Audis, Porsches, Ferraris and Toyotas locally.

    In some technical ways the WEC’s ahead of F1 at the moment – I’m sure Allan McNish will point those out on telly in a few minutes (looking forward to hearing him on BBC with Ben Edwards) and Mark Webber will be very welcome indeed wandering around the open, relaxed WEC paddocks and pit lanes.

    Wish I was the photographer who took that picture of the Porsche testing – he must be coining it in, that photo is everywhere at the moment!

  5. coefficient (@coefficient) said on 28th June 2013, 10:11

    Good luck Mark!

    Personally I’d like to see Mark stay in F1 because he leaves behind him something of a vacuum.

    However, perhaps this is also a sign of the times that even the most respected of drivers are starting to find F1 boring. Artificial racing, tyres that melt after half a dozen laps, DRS, prescribed lap times. Maybe we’ll see more of the guys realise it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be these days to be an F1 driver.

    Years in apprenticeship learning to race hard for your daily bread and then when you hit the big time it comes down to who has the best race modelling software? Is that what we want?

    I have been obsessed with F1 for longer than I care to admit and I have found myself being critical on a regular basis of a sport I used to passionately defend. Maybe its just me. I’ve given this DRS/no refuelling/rubbish tyres a fair crack of the whip and now in its third season I find it is not really to my taste.

    To me it’s clear now that the F1 overlords have confused the show with the racing. “Improving the show” has been detremental to the racing which needs looking at because at the end of the day race fans are fans of the racing. We want to watch a race, not a series of orchestrated events.

    The guy who commentates on the World Superbikes said something interesting a few races ago. He was joking but many a true word are spoken in jest as they say. They were reacting to a stunning overtake where one of the commentators scathingly said “No DRS here!” to which the other replied “Yeah, imagine it. You’re only allowed to tuck your head behind the bubble if you’re within a second of the guy in front LOLOLOLLLOL”.

    Outside of the F1 Enclave with all it’s boasting that it’s the best, it’s pretty clear that it is starting to be laughed at.

    F1 is becoming the WWE of motorsport which is very sad!!

    • coefficient (@coefficient) said on 28th June 2013, 10:22

      Coincidentally, I prefer boxing or UFC to WWE.

    • GT_Racer said on 28th June 2013, 11:54

      The guy who commentates on the World Superbikes said something interesting a few races ago. He was joking but many a true word are spoken in jest as they say. They were reacting to a stunning overtake where one of the commentators scathingly said “No DRS here!” to which the other replied “Yeah, imagine it. You’re only allowed to tuck your head behind the bubble if you’re within a second of the guy in front LOLOLOLLLOL”.

      There not the only one’s, I’ve heard quite a few commentators as well as drivers/riders in other series around the world ‘mock’ F1’s use of DRS & high-deg tyres during moments of good racing.

      Regarding Mark, He’s never liked the DRS/KERS/Pirelli-era & he’s always felt these things are hurting the racing & spoiling the fun of racing wheel to wheel for the drivers.
      You can go back to Shanghai 2011, Everyone raving about a great drive through the field from him while Mark himself called it “unsatisfying” because of how easy DRS made things & how easy to was passing guys on older tyres.

      Interestingly Button said drivers find the current racing boring with DRS/Pirelli’s so Mark isn’t the only one.
      I’ve also said a few times on here the past few years that the DRS & the impact of the tyres is something which most of the drivers seriously dislike.

      • This younger of generation of drivers who grew up on Mario Kart expect such power ups, whereas the Jenson Buttons and Mark Webbers grew up on Microprose Grand Prix 2, where things were done proper.

    • marcusbreese (@marcusbreese) said on 28th June 2013, 13:44

      The only other series I watch regularly is MotoGP, but I’ve certainly heard much lampooning of Formula One there. Specifically the gimmicks that have been introduced. They often mention the fact that there’s “No DRS Here” or “No cheese tyres to melt away”. I think it goes beyond the standard rivalry between different racing series, and I personally think they have a point.

  6. Maciek (@maciek) said on 28th June 2013, 13:57

    Funny to think his Red Bull career might have panned out differently if he’d only gotten his starts sorted out.

  7. Garns (@) said on 28th June 2013, 14:41

    Mark is very much like fellow Aussie Cassey Stoner in that he was not liking where he saw his sport going, and as per above, Webber doesnt like the way it has emerged in the past few years.

    He seems to have gone out on his own terms and seeing Christian Horner had 5 minutes notice on the announcement seems to prove this. If Reb Bull were to offer a one year extention or not, well, we wont really know will we- but Mark made sure he got in first.

    He does call it as he see’s, and now Lewis will be the only F1 driver to have the honesty to do so- 30 years ago they ALL did !!!!! I can see and agree that sometime he had a “whinge”, but considering the crap he has put up with at RBR I say he has been a champion as a person (and I am dumbfounded he has not planted a swift jab to Seb’s jaw at least once LOL).

    I do actually believe Seb’s statement today that they are not best mates but “things are not as bad as you (the press) make it- this is no Senna V Prost battle.

    We all think we “know” our F1 drivers as we spend so much time seeing them- and we usually base our like or dislike of them on a perception on what we see- a few minutes here or there on TV. But we dont KNOW them.

    I was never a fan of the “Shu” until I saw him go out of the way in Suzuka last year to spend time with a lady in a wheelchair- I now have alot of respect as he showed his true form – well played! (as a driver i ALWAYS did of course!!)

    Webber is the same. I have met him 3 times at Grands Prix, always polite even though he has somewhere to be SOON- they all do. In Melbourne my father-in-law did not take a “quick photo”, he turned off the camera!! My “sorry Mark” comments were replied with “Its all good mate” and Webber took the camera and took a “selfie” of the both of us. I saw Lewis as well, he would noy have done the “selfie” in the same regard LOL.

    A top bloke who will be missed in F1, but I now have a new formula to watch!!
    BTW- best of luck to Daniel!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. RACERNORRISKI (@racernorriski) said on 30th August 2013, 18:28

    I am looking forward to hearing Mark’s comments during his new racing career. It is a fine racing series with some great tracks and pretty well covered here in the states. Not sure about the UK and Europe coverage?? Thanks, RnR

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