A day with former F1 star Mark Webber

Matt Jones - Editor 05:37 07/05/2015
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  • Ambassadorial role: Mark Webber.

    Mark Webber spent 11 years in Formula One, most of them at the pinnacle. His best years were from 2007-13 at Red Bull, where he had an extremely fruitful but eventually fiery relationship with team-mate Sebastian Vettel.

    Despite his prowess, he ultimately failed to land the sport’s biggest prize, though he came close in 2010, where he went into the final race of the season, in Abu Dhabi, as one of four drivers who could have won the title.

    Although F1’s greatest prize eluded him, Webber still competed in 215 races, winning nine times and finishing on the podium an impressive 42 times.

    Now an F1 ambassador, Webber was in Dubai this week to promote this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, which will again bring the curtain down on the F1 season in November.

    Sport360 caught up with the Australian and spoke to him about the state of F1 and his career highlights.

    F1 is often branded boring these days. What are your thoughts on that?

    For the sport it’s nice to have different winners. We want to see a few different winners, but F1 generally hasn’t been like that. All the way through, the 1970s, 80s, 90s, 2000s, it’s been a couple of teams winning each year in this cyclical fashion which they just drop in and out of.

    The drivers are really what it’s about. People follow teams to a degree but the sport’s about the individuals and that’s who the fans like to watch, the guys competing and pushing each other hard.

    At Red Bull you had a heated rivalry with Sebastian Vettel and now it’s Hamilton v Rosberg at Mercedes. Is it good for the sport to have rivalries?

    Absolutely. In 2010, when I fought for the championship, there were four drivers fighting for the title. The same in 1986. That’s a rare occurrence.

    To have three or four guys going for the title is super rare. To have two guys going for it in the same year, irrespective of whether they’re in the same team, has got to be a positive.

    Your old team are struggling this season. What do you make of them and the Daniel Ricciardo-Daniil Kvyat duo?

    Daniel is a Grand Prix winner so that’s impressive. You don’t win too many of them by fluking them. He’s clearly got very good pedigree.

    Daniil, time will tell whether he can operate at that level week in week out towards the end of this year. They will be back next year.

    Red Bull want to be fighting for a world championship next year. They can sacrifice this year’s car and focus on next year. If there’s any positives about having a brutal season, it’s that you can cut your losses and focus on next year’s car.

    What are you feelings generally about the state of F1?

    It’s probably not at its peak, in terms of the cars, the intensity, the lap times. There’s a few things they’d like to evolve, the noise obviously.

    That was the signature punch of Formula One, the noise. It was a huge point for people coming to a race, saying ‘I can’t even hear myself think’.

    We have a lot less engine noise and probably didn’t realise this was going to be such a big issue. There’s also the overtaking and DRS issues, but Formula One is such a strong product. It’s about the drivers. That’s what the sport is about and that’s why I followed it as a 13-year-old lad.

    Last year at the Abu Dhabi GP, we had double points. What was your take on it?

    As a traditionalist I’m not a huge fan of double points but it worked well last year to be honest. It kept it alive. In previous years, we’ve seen one or two teams taking it to the last race.

    When I was racing here in 2010 there were four drivers aiming to win the championship on standard points which only happens every 20 years.

    It’s quite rare so the initiative was quite powerful, but pretty frustrating for the drivers. For the neutral fan it worked pretty well. It is a special Grand Prix. It’s one of the best but I don’t think it’s worth 50 points compared to another Grand Prix.

    How do you rate the Abu Dhabi venue?

    It was a very nice way to finish the season. Conditions were testing. It’s very well organised and a very special race. A lot more venues have come on the calendar but Yas is clearly one of the top ones among the new arrivals.

    There’s some great venues and new doesn’t always give you atmosphere, but I do think that this place does have a buzz about it.

    You are now involved here as an F1 ambassador and on the organising side of things. How has the change been?

    You’re in a bubble when you’re a driver. As a driver you’re focused on your own result and performance. But there’s so many things that have to be pulled together to put together a global sporting event.

    It’s (Abu Dhabi GP) been held six years on the bounce and it continues to improve. It is one of the best Grand Prix in the world, if not the best in terms of entertainment.

    It’s easy to say it’s just another Grand Prix but it’s not. Many GP’s struggle to keep the momentum going and that’s what these guys are very good at. It’s the absolute benchmark in terms of how to execute a Grand Prix.

    You’re now driving for Porsche in the World Endurance Championship. How’s that going?

    Really well. I’m just off the back of a podium in Spa which was great. We’re looking forward to the Le Mans 24 hours on June 13.

    That’s obviously the classic and it’s Porsche’s second home as they’ve had the most wins there. It’s very demanding on the body. The cars are extremely fast and very close to Formula One lap times.

    When Porsche are calling on the phone, you have to answer because they’re such a famous brand. I’m honoured to be driving for them and I want to be associated with them for a long time.

    You’re quite handy at tennis, winning the F1 Pro-Am tennis event in Barcelona three times.

    I’m alright. I can hit a ball. I’m a big sports fan. I’m a big Canberra Raiders rugby league fan, tennis, and I’m also a Manchester United fan. This season I haven’t really seen a huge amount of it but they’ll be alright. It’s been better than last season.

    Who was the best driver you ever raced against in your career?

    Probably Michael (Schumacher). He was incredibly complete, unfortunately for the rest of the guys. Technically he was all over it. He worked on his weaknesses like hell and ironed out most of them, which is why he was such a force.

    What was your career highlight?

    Winning the Monaco GP twice and the British GP twice. They’re big signature races. When I won them I knew they were special. It’s easy to get blasé sometimes in the bubble but I knew they were extremely big moments for me.