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 part three, the Australian reflects on how the sport has changed during his eleven years in the top flight...

Having raced in F1 during some of the most significant regulation changes in the sport's history, Mark Webber is well placed to comment on the evolution of the sport over the course of the last ten years.

When the Australian made his debut in 2002, the sport was a constant sprint race with fuel strategy determining that drivers made one, two or three stops in races and forcing them to race on the limit for every lap to eke every ounce of performance from the car. The tyre war between Bridgestone and Michelin also upped the ante for drivers, with lap times slashed year on year with fresher rubber and the limit of the cars being pushed increasingly towards a smaller apex. In addition, the restriction on testing has seen teams limited to the designated winter tests as opposed to testing for three or four days between races.

With significant aerodynamic changes, the removal of driver aids and return of slicks, Webber could be forgiven for thinking that modern day F1 is completely different to the one that he came into eleven years ago. The Australian, however, realises that modern day F1 is in fact much more similar to the traditional values of the sport rather than the 'balls to the wall' racing of the early part of the 21st century.

"It's still F1 and there was an element of saving fuel in the [Alain] Prost era, or saving tyres to a degree," Webber noted during an interview at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, "It's always been there in a way but, because we came from an era, of maybe five or six years, when it wasn't like that and the sport moved to refuelling and tyre wars, every lap was qualifying all the time.

"In winter testing, you'd have so many guys going off because we were always on the edge and finding the limits and the balance. In winter testing now, it's rare to see a guy spinning. Everything has been brought down and, even in qualifying, we see guys can't get the tyre to finish the lap."

Interestingly, Webber went on to comment that, in some ways, the junior categories actually give drivers skill sets that do not have as much value in F1 as they did earlier in their careers.

"I think that, in some scenarios, the guys at this level are overqualified to do this job because it's a different skill set that maybe isn't correct for this category," he said, "In India, we were doing two laps on the tyre in the middle of the race. It's all changed as, before the race, we're told the corners that we can't push at. My biggest strength is in fast corners and the Pirelli tyres don't like this. You can't push them in the grand prix, so it's a string out of my bow that is gone. Now I have to work on the slow speed corners...."

Webber went on to comment about what motivates a driver and drew parallels towards the armed forces and the mindset that certain people have that drives them towards performing at their limits.

"Drivers want to test themselves and have that knife-edge feeling as much as possible," he claimed, "That's what we are trained to do and what we would like to do. That's why you have guys that fly for the military and some that fly for British Airways; they think differently. That's why I race in F1 and some other guys can't. I can operate at that high level but, when the level comes down, [it means that] more can race in F1."

With the changes, it would be easy to say that the current era of 'driving to a delta time' and not being able to push the car to the limit has played a role in Webber's decision to leave the sport for sportscars. It is ironic that, for years, the Le Mans 24 Hours was viewed as being a race where patience and mechanical sympathy were key to winning, whereas F1 was about blinding speed and racing at the limit. The ethos of both series have reversed, but Webber dismissed suggestions that this played a role in his decision-making process

"Even if F1 was flat-out now, I'd probably still make the same decision to work for Porsche," he admitted, "The guys that have come into F1 in the last three years think that this is the normal but, for Jenson [Button], Fernando [Alonso], Kimi [Raikkonen] and me, when we raced with the Bridgestone and Michelins in the fuel days, my God that was two hours of absolutely balls to wall, so we've had the taste of both.

"As a purist and a racer, you'd want the other one. If you threw in KERS and DRS, you'd have the perfect cocktail and everyone would be happy. We have what we have now and you have to make it work. That's another part of a driver's skill set and you have to learn how to deal with all the changes."

 

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