Mark Webber on racing
As a former Formula One racer and current World Endurance Champion, it’s fair to say that Mark Webber knows how to handle himself behind the wheel of a car, better than most men on the planet. Esquire Middle East caught up with the affable Aussie to talk about motors.
In endurance racing drivers swap positions as the race goes along. Does that mean there is more comradery between drivers? As opposed to the rivalries that Formula One is famous for?
It gets a bit heated with the single drivers, but for us it’s definitely more of a team focus. We want to make it so the car doesn’t know who is driving it. So we mix up the drivers. Everyone does starts and finishes, which means the car has to behave evenly.
So there’s three of you, and you jump out as the race goes along.Yea, there’s a main seat and when someone jumps out it gets adjusted. I’m a bit taller than the other two, so my seat goes back. But that’s it. Pedals, steering, everything stays the same.
Endurance races can last anywhere from six-hours like in Bahrain, or 24-hours in the case of Le Mans. How do you find it from Formula One?
I prefer it at this stage of my career. I didn’t want to do this type of racing in the middle of my career, if you know what I mean. Formula One was where I wanted to be and that was really enjoyable. However, now this is the perfect category for me, and I’m with the perfect team with Porsche. The season is shorter, which is perfect. There’s not many races. But it gives me the adrenaline rush, it gives me a buzz. And I enjoy working with the team at Porsche. I also enjoy the engineering side, improving the car. That’s the most rewarding part of it. The most fun is of course getting the results, and working together with Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley to win races.
It must be quite a change, going from Formula One to endurance racing?
It’s a different environment. I won in Formula One, that’s an individual feeling. Of course, it’s sensational but there comes a point when you’re close to 40 that it’s no longer the category for you. You grow out of it. That’s the way it is, and always has been, generally. Especially now, with younger and younger drivers coming in.
As the cars go slower, is there less stress on your body while racing?
They don’t go much slower. Look at Lewis Hamilton’s time on the Shanghai circuit. We did that same track and we were just four tenths of a second away from him. That’s very fast. There’s a bit of a myth out there about endurance racing being slow, because the races go on for so long. But remember, Formula One has gotten much slower as they have changed the engines. They are still pretty quick in qualifying, but in the races there has been a big step backwards in terms of lap time. They are getting slower, and we are getting faster. Physically – from a driver’s standpoint – they are very even.
So there’s a lot of ex-Formula One drivers now in endurance racing. Is it the next step in a driver’s career?
Definitely. I think it’s very attractive because the cars are super quick, they look sexy and they are rewarding to drive. Racers crave stimulation. Our job as professional racers is to drive out on the limb, all of the time. To push the envelope, as it were.
“There’s a myth out there about endurance racing being slow because the races go on for so long. That’s not true”
If you could give advice to a young racer out there, what would it be?
To play tennis or golf. Racing is very expensive, it’s hard. I think to get to the top in motorsports is as hard as it has ever been. There are a lot of people bringing in big sponsorship, on a personal level. It was probably easier thirty years ago for people to have the opportunity to drive at the top level. If you had talent, you could get through on scholarship and thinks like that. But now it’s really hard to get the penetration to make it all the way to the top.
That’s the challenge, raising money?
Yes. Generally, the good guys don’t have money but they want to fight. They don’t have support or sponsorship, but they show talent in karting of Formula Four. Someone good will show their initial talent from 12-15 years old. You see that they are awesome, but they need millions to keep going. It’s expensive to be in the racing industry, especially if you want to be professional. It’s the opposite in other sports, in football you get picked up at 15. Talent scouts see you, come get you, and develop you. In motorsports, you really need to labour to ever get picked up. It’s a problem actually, and something the sport should do better at.
What’s special about the race in Bahrain?
It’s the last round of the championship. It’s a well-organized race, and we always get good weather here. That’s really important actually, we have some tricky venues depending on the weather. Otherwise, the track is great, there are long straights which let the cars open up.
Do you have a favourite track to race on?
I like Silverstone. It’s always good racing there. Obviously, Le Mans is an absolute classic, and a massive event. Ultimately, it’s my job to like them all, which I generally do.
“One piece of advice for a young aspiring racing driver? Play tennis or golf”
So what have you got in the garage at the moment?
I’ve got quite a few Porsches at the moment. My baby is a 356 Cabriolet, a 1954 model. Driving that never gets old.
Do you still cycle?
Oh yeah, I do plenty of mountain biking. I’m a huge outdoor junkie, I’m all over that sort of stuff. I am a little bit detuned at the moment, do to all the racing, but I am looking forward to a nice winder back in Australia when I can start training again.