Mark Webber has decided to call time on his illustrious Formula One career, which started way back in 2002 with Minardi. The Australian will headline Porsche’s return to the FIA World Endurance Championship, with the carmaker confirming it will rejoin the LMP1 category in a three-way battle with Audi and Toyota.
The no-nonsense driver, know worldwide as ‘Aussie Grit’ courtesy of his Twitter handle, was in the frame to remain with Red Bull Racing for another one-year deal but has decided to call time on his career.
In Webber’s twelve-year Formula 1 career, he has claimed nine Grand Prix wins, 36 podium finishes and eleven pole positions, as well as twice finishing third overall in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Rumours surrounding the Porsche tie-up have been doing the rounds for some time, although denied by both parties until now. Webber is a known Porsche fan, so the announcement is not a great surprise.
In turn, rumours surrounding his replacement have been in full swing since before the start of the year, when Webber made openly critical remarks about the lack of support he was getting in the team, particularly stemming from the team’s lead advisor – and known Sebastian Vettel fan – Helmut Marko.
That became further entrenched following the ‘Multi-21’ saga at the Malaysian Grand Prix, and few believed that he had a future with the Milton Keynes squad beyond the end of the season. While Webber denied it was a trigger for his decision to leave the team, few will be inclined to believe him…
Instead, Webber believes that the sport’s change to new regulations next year will serve as the opportunity to exit stage left.
In announcing his decision to quit F1, Webber described the tie-up with Porsche as an “honour”, saying: “Porsche has written racing history as a manufacturer and stands for outstanding performance and technology at the highest level.
“I’m very much looking forward to this new challenge after my time in Formula 1. I can hardly wait to pilot one of the fastest sports cars in the world.”
Webber is no stranger to the Le Mans racing stage, twice competing in its famous 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe with Mercedes’ short-lived LMP1 effort. In 1998, he claimed pole position, only to retire in the opening hour, and in 1999 he survived two terrifying accidents before the team withdrew its entry.
With his departure now confirmed, all eyes will now focus on who his replacement will be. Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen is considered a favourite to replace him, with the Finn previously having ties with the drinks giant from his rallying days. That being said, Raikkonen is no fan of PR work, which would be a requirement under any Red Bull-related deal. And given the team’s poor history in effectively managing its drivers as teammates, one would question if Kimi would be keen to jump into an environment that is so heavily geared around Vettel.
Also in contention are Scuderia Toro Rosso drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, who are logical candidates given they driver for the sister outfits and have had long-standing support from the Red Bull group. Either one of them will, however, need to step up and deliver performances well above what they have been able to achieve so far.