Webber: Talking Porsche
9 November 2013
In a series of four revealing articles, Mark Webber opens up to Crash.net's Stephen English on a variety of F1-related topics. In this fourth and final part, the Australian discusses the reasoning behind his return to sportscars in 2014.
While the news that Porsche would return to the top tier of international sportscars in 2014 grabbed the attention of millions of fans worldwide, the hiring of Mark Webber as their lead driver has been an equally important boost for the World Endurance Championship.
Porsche, the most successful manufacturer in Le Mans 24 Hours history, will return to the historic French circuit as a full factory outfit for the first time since winning the 1998 edition. For Webber, it will be his first time back at the Circuit la Sarthe since the controversial 1999 race, when the Australian raced for Mercedes.
Webber spoke to Crash.net before the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, discussing his move back to sportscars and how the opportunity to race for Porsche had first materialised. While their agreement was made public at the British Grand Prix, Webber revealed that the German manufacturer had actually started contract negotiations over twelve months earlier. At that time, rumours about Webber's future centred on a much speculated move to Ferrari.
"I came very close to a Ferrari drive," he admitted, "It got to the point where I needed to make contact with [Red Bull founder] Dietrich Mateschitz and let him know, because he's been great to me.
“In the end, I couldn't agree the right scenario with Ferrari. It would obviously have been this year and next year, but it's funny how things move along and things change. I don't regret that decision - there was a cut off and I made a decision and the boat has gone. It was quite close for a couple of months and I made the decision in Canada last year. I made the decision on the Thursday night that, whatever happens from now on, I would stay with Red Bull."
With Webber agreeing to remain at Red Bull for 2013, he revealed that he also turned down the option presented to him by Porsche to join them for this year. Ultimately, Webber still felt that he had much to offer in F1 and that he was not ready to walk away from the sport at that point. Over the course of the last year, however, his mindset has changed.
"Porsche were very interested in getting me for this year, but I wasn't ready for that so, through 2012, I was struggling a bit to look for a change,” he explained, “I've been at Red Bull Racing for a long time, and it's the same with anyone when you work with the same people for eight or ten years. It's human nature to look for a change. I made the confirmation to myself [to retire] around Christmas.
“For me, to go training and do all the things necessary [to remain at the top of F1], I've always been self motivating. It's not easy to accept those demands but, in the last year or so, it's been less, and that was another natural decision in my head - I thought, 'Mark, you're not 19 anymore'."
While his decision to leave the sport was clearly one that he had to wrestle with over the course of 18 months, the nature and enjoyment of driving a F1 car was enough to draw Webber back for one last season. He has discussed leaving the sport with other drivers and concentrated on finding a series that would still challenge him.
"F1 is the benchmark in terms of adrenaline and everything else,” he acknowledged, “Every driver I've spoken to has said that, after F1, they can't find anything to replace it. If you've had a taste of that... it's like flying first class, in that it makes it difficult to fly economy after that. But you have to. I believe that the Porsche programme is easily up to the [performance of the] midfield here in F1.
"Take away Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes and McLaren - after that, it's the same. Considering the professionalism, the preparation and all those things, there isn't a better transition for me between, as a brand, Porsche and staying with Red Bull as an athlete, but also the cars are the closest to F1. DTM is a really fast touring car, but sportscars are different. They're quick and that's also another reason why I think that I can be successful in sportscars."