As Mark Webber prepares for his 215th and last grand prix, he admits that it has been an honour to represent his country at the very top of international motorsport.
There have only been a handful of Australian F1 drivers, and even fewer able to call themselves race winners in the top flight, and Webber had to fight every inch of the way in order to join them. Having been given the opportunity to step up by countryman Paul Stoddart, he responded with an emotional point-scoring debut on home soil, before working his way through the ranks from Minardi, via Jaguar and Williams, before becoming a part of the Red Bull firmament.
Now, with nine race wins, 13 pole positions and 18 fastest laps under his belt, he is able to reflect on what his career has brought to his homeland.
“I believe that I've competed in a way which they would be proud of and I just want to thank them, obviously, for all their amazing messages that I've had over the last few weeks - and especially this week, it's been incredible,” he noted in the build-up to the Brazilian Grand Prix.
“I always represented, and was proud to race for, Australia throughout my career, so the Australian national anthem and the flag were very important for me, because I always knew it was not often... there's only been three race winners, so it's not exactly easy for us to compete at this level and get over to Europe. It's very special to race for Australia.”
Despite being denied the chance to follow in the footsteps of Jack Brabham and Alan Jones and become F1 world champion, Webber has some good memories of his time in the top flight, particularly in the early days of his grand prix career.
“I think the hardest and most difficult cars to drive were in the mid-2000s, when we had all the refuelling and the tyre war,” he reflected, “Those cars were tricky and you had to push every time you went out. There was no such thing as pacing at any point really, in qualifying, practice or Sunday afternoon. It really was a tight envelope for a grand prix driver to operate in those eras, but that's what we trained [for] and we aspired to do. Obviously there was a lot of power too - the V10s had plenty of horsepower - so the lap times floating around then were pretty impressive. They were good times.”
His impending return to sportscars, where he will link up with Porsche's nascent prototype effort next season, underlines Webber's frustration with the way that F1 has gone in recent years, the veteran openly admitting that he does not enjoy the sport in its current guise.
“We've had a lot of changes in the last three or four years,” he sighed, “The racing has gone through some boring phases, so we've introduced DRS, things like that, things that have been of benefit to the sport, [but] it's taken a little bit of the tradition out of it, I suppose. Some of the passing moves and things like that, which probably are not as difficult to achieve as in years gone by. They are achievable now, and that's a little bit fabricated, but good for the neutral at home.