Inside Line

Mark Webber’s F1 record wasn’t all it could’ve been, but it was more than it should’ve been

Mark Fogarty

ARK Webber doesn’t look back. Once he’d left Formula One, he was over it. And now that he’s retired from racing all together, he’ll move on without regret. That’s just how Webber is and how he’s always been as a racer – single-minded, brutally honest and pragmatic. So when he decides to quit, that’s it. There’ll be no comeback, at least not in any serious sense. He’ll drive racing cars again, but not competitively. For Webber, it was all about competing at the highest level.

That’s what drove him and what thrilled him. His view is that once you’ve been to the summit of racing in F1 and Le Mans sports prototypes (LMP1), anything else is underwhelming.

So you won’t see Webber dabbling in GT3, not even in a Porsche with his sometime-racer mate and actor Eric Bana in the Bathurst 12 Hour. His link with Porsche continues post-racing, but not as a guest driver.

And you can definitely rule out a return home to race in Supercars. Not interested, never has been. He’s as true blue as they come, but V8s, or even the Bathurst 1000, doesn’t hold any appeal. Webber was profoundly influenced by his father Alan’s purist view that single-seaters were the pinnacle and F1 the Holy Grail. His boyhood heroes were Alain Prost and Nigel Mansell, not Peter Brock and Dick Johnson.

With nine F1 race wins – including twice in the prestigious and testing Monaco Grand Prix – and a world sports-car has nothing to prove, least of all against Supercars specialists.

He’s not being a snob, though, because long before successful, he had made it clear V8s held no attraction.

Webber isn’t into the mystique of Mount Panorama, raced there back in his formative Formula Ford days he respects it, he isn’t in awe. There’s certainly no burning to try to conquer The Mountain in something more potent.

He is that cut and dried. He ended his F1 career because disillusioned and had a more appealing offer from Porsche lead its return to big-time sports car racing – simple.

Webber enjoyed driving for Porsche – his favourite car marque – in the World Endurance Championship (WEC). He loved the camaraderie with his co-drivers, Germany’s Timo Bernhard and New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley, and revelled in the relatively unrestrained racing. After the Pirelli purgatory of his last three years in F1, forced to nurse deliberately degrading tyres, Webber delighted in the freedom of racing the 1000 horsepower Porsche 919 Hybrid flatout on high-grip, long-lasting rubber.

However, in his third season, he realised he’d had enough. He reached the clinical conclusion last May that he no longer had the desire to continue at the top M restigious ar title, he pecialists. e he was either. He and while ng desire ent. e he was sche to road hip rs, s level and in October announced he was retiring. His send-off at the final race of the WEC season was rousing. Rarely has a retiring driver received such a heartfelt farewell. Amid all the emotion and attention, Webber just got on with it and, fittingly, ended his career on the podium.

His F1 record wasn’t all it could have been, but equally, it was more than it should have been. He over-achieved in the sense that he beat odds stacked against him. He survived seven seasons in uncompetitive cars and when Red Bull Racing finally came good in 2009, he was up against Sebastian Vettel, an emerging mega-talent. In their five fractious seasons together, Webber held his own, defying the team’s bias to keep Vettel honest as the favoured German swept to four world titles in a row.

On his best days, Webber could beat anyone. But there weren’t enough of those days to rank him with the likes of Vettel, Fernando Alonso or Lewis Hamilton. He was a great F1 driver, just not among the greatest. However, as a personality and a person, he was one of the very best. The public saw the plainspeaking Aussie who wasn’t afraid to express his views. Insiders admired a highly principled, uncommonly loyal individual who, as a competitor, upheld traditional values of fair play and sportsmanship.

An old-fashioned description sums up Webber best. He is fair dinkum. M