Mark’s mates mate (well, most of ’em…)
He does say it. Frequently: “He’s my mate’s mate, mate.” And I guess that’s what I like most about Mark Webber. He’s your mate – and he’s a mate of your mates. Which means, in Australian, that he’s usually having a laugh and usually looking out for the next bloke. I’ll miss him in the F1 pit-lane, and on the circuit – but I’ll enjoy watching him next year with Porsche. In the meantime, and in addition to our interview with Mark on the show this week, here, in Mark’s own words, are some pen-portraits of some of the key figures from his career. For more insight from the man himself, visit www.markwebber.com
He was very influential in 1997. He should never have run us in F3 for the money we had at the time but I think he and Dick had a lot of passion and we had two relatively high-paying drivers in the other cars, which was good, but in reality it wasn’t great for me because effectively it was a one-car team. I thrived from having Docko around me at that stage of my career. I needed that. I needed that trust. I still smile at the thought of being down at Pembrey, hanging out with the boys in the van. And, in the end, we were able to pay back any outstanding bills. Looking back, that year was a bit of a dream, because David Campese and Mercedes also helped me out with a bit of a budget to keep me on the circuit.
I bumped into Norbert at the Australian GP in 1997. I had just won the Formula Ford Festival, so I went over with a card and asked him to keep an eye on me. I remember I had just got out of the shower in the two-up, two-down Annie and I had in Aylesbury when the phone rang and it was Norbert, asking me to drive the Mercedes sports car in the 1000km race at the Nurburgring the following weekend. This is six months after I’ve been driving Formula Ford. ‘All due respect, Norbert,’ I said, ‘this is going to be difficult’. So we didn’t actually do that race but I did a test and that started my relationship with Merc. I had a really good time there. Norbert was probably the most human side of that whole programme. Emotions were obviously very high at Le Mans and in the end we had a bit of a tricky parting when I wanted to go and do my own thing but it never affected my relationship with Norbert. He would always come to see me on the grid in F1 and I would always say hi to him. He was a supporter – as he was of lots of young drivers at that time.
He was brave and he tried to take a lot of people on with Minardi, with me in F3000 and then in F1. Again he wanted to give me a little bit of a go – a bit of an extension of the Docko situation if you like. I went down to Pembrey with the F3000 car, he liked what I did and off we went. Stoddy certainly bankrolled me and helped me initially and we managed to finish third in the championship with some big wins that year. That was very rewarding. Then we finished fifth in Melbourne in F1. He was a knockabout sort of guy, an adrenalin junkie.The coolest thing was going from a Merc company car to Stoddy’s: it had about 700,000 genuine miles on the clock but it was at least still a Merc!
A lot of people probably wouldn’t put us together in terms of how they might see us but I can’t say a bad word about what Flavio’s done with me. He’s been incredibly loyal and has always boxed my corner when needed. I don’t talk to him often, to be honest, but his last goal was to get me the Ferrari seat, which was very close. Even up to a few months ago he was still pushing very hard, but by that time I had made my decision. I was disappointed about Singapore ‘08 and how that was played out but I can only take on what he’s done with me and he’s always been straight up and down and extremely consistent.
A big reason why I continued for as long as I did. He’s by a million miles the best guy I’ve ever worked with in terms of understanding a racing car. I’ve worked with a lot of people but Adrian’s ability to execute what the driver needs and what the car needs is just phenomenal. He’s an inspiring guy to work with. People might see him as quite a shy guy. He’s not a profiler. But he’s a bloody competitive guy. He’s super-competitive. I’ve seen him when we’ve been beaten fair and square – and it’s not something he enjoys – and I’ve also seen him when we’ve finished one-two. And his reactions are sometimes not very different. He’s very driven. He’s a real beacon for the team, too. I can’t talk highly enough about him, really. He was one of the first guys to speak to me in Parc Ferme after the Malaysian GP this year. He knew how I felt and he wasn’t happy. I believe there’s a lot of respect between us. I certainly have a lot for him. He’s been through a lot in his career – the biggest highs and lows personally, and I respect that.
There was an opening to get involved and obviously I wanted to help Flavio a little bit with the GP3 championship. Then we had Mitch (Evans) coming over from NZ. He lifted the team to a high level, so that was good, and also from the engineering side I like to see the young engineers coming through the team and then to be able to put something back. We’ve got some quick drivers this year and Carlos Sainz in particular I think is showing a lot of promise.
Probably not as close now as we once were. Christian is going to be with the team for a long time – indefinitely, you’d imagine, unless he gets an approach from somewhere else – so he’s got to make sure that he tries to keep everything as smooth as possible and in some cases that hasn’t been something which might have benefitted me. That’s put a stress on the relationship.
I still don’t really know his role in the team, so….yeah…. He was very critical of me from Day One but in the end he’s obviously brought Seb through and done a great job with that. He’s probably disappointed that F1 teams have to have two cars. But they do.
He’s been great for me. Not always easy for him to have his finger on the pulse with absolutely everything because he’s extremely busy. Extremely successful man, a captain of industry. He’s done a lot of amazing things for a lot of young athletes, too. He’s lifted the bar for a lot of them. Always replies. Always available to catch up. He’s never too busy for that and I’m looking forward to working with him in the future. Red Bull’s certainly a very slick and well-run operation.
A pretty tough character. A wealth of experience. Little did I know at the time when I was driving a Williams that his motivation was probably a little on the way out, with BMW leaving and so forth. I didn’t want to believe it but he was struggling to stay fired up about the sport. That was disappointing, so I probably didn’t see PH at his best. But I did see him with the veins out of his neck a few times, which was interesting. Certainly most team bosses are pussy cats compared with Patrick. One of the best things he said to be was in Brazil, at the last race I did for Williams, when he shook my hand on the grid and said, ‘sorry we didn’t give you good enough cars when you were here’. That meant a lot to me. I’ll never forget that. A great line from a phenomenal engineer.
I’ve raced against him since F3000, so I’ve known him for a long, long time. We’ve come through together. Probably reasonably similar backgrounds in terms of him growing up in Spain and me in Australia and how we got to where we are now. There weren’t many shortcuts and plenty of graft was required. I think on a Sunday afternoon, he’s arguably the best. Incredible. His ability to hold the car at that level for two hours is absolutely exceptional. And have a look at the number of incidents he’s been involved in: it’s very, very few, which is another exceptional advertisement for how, as a racer, he is the benchmark on Sunday afternoons. When he’s on the case. You can ‘t always be up. He’s had a tough period but if you compare him to other greats in the past he’s avoided a lot. There was Singapore ‘08. It was extremely controversial. People can read into that what they want. Unless you know the full ins and outs it’s difficult to judge. If you knew how it unfolded, I wouldn’t have accepted the win. But I don’t think the win was supposed to happen anyway! Anyway, over one lap there are probably guys who are a little bit quicker. But over 19 races, in all conditions, on Sundays – he’s your man.
Obviously phenomenally gifted. We know that his strength is qualifying and the first five laps of the race. That’s his signature punch. That’s the hardest part to control. He’s excelled with that. There’s so much water under the bridge between us that it’s hard to think of more positives than negatives in terms of our relationship so that’s a bit disappointing because you want to keep everyone in a respectful light, and give them as big a chance as possible, for as long as you can. But I think there’s probably too much that’s gone on between us. Maybe when we’re 50-odd things will be different but with what we’ve been through it’s hard to draw a line under too much of it. For sure I’m not super-bothered by it and nor is he. That’s just the way it is.
2010 wasn’t so bad for starts. The slip control with the Pirellis is probably a little more difficult but in the last few races we seem to have got on top of it, although it was annoying to have the clutch problem at Spa. Dealing with the inconsistencies of the clutch I’m probably not as good as I could be. Unfortunately it’s a high-profile bit of a weakness. Braking for the pit-limiter line for the pit entry – no-one sees it but it’s something where I’m very strong. All day long Seb’s got to build up to that against me. Re the starts, we’ve played around with different layouts on the steering wheel but it’s certainly not a reaction thing. In Canada I nearly ran into the back of Bottas, so I said, ‘guys, give me that again.’ Overall, it’s true to say that our starts have been average at best. I’m doing what I can with the information they’re giving me but, having said that, we’re not Felipe Massa, turning up and – bang – off the line every time. One of the problems is that we always have a lot of tolerance in the start. We say ‘do this if it goes wrong or do that if it goes wrong’. What we don’t say is, ‘this is how it’s going to happen’. It’s been like that for a long time but we’re trying to get that out. Germany was a good example. Hamilton was on the pole so we were able to get three laps onto the grid – not for me to practice my starts but for the guys to look at the clutch, look at the clutch, look at the clutch… Normally, we’re not able to do that.
I love the DNA, the history. Also the endurance side of it and the robustness of it. That quality product is something which, in a bizarre sort of way, you try to be yourself – consistent, strong, always reliable, always there, in all conditions . That’s what a Porsche is. You can take a 911 and do most things with it. It’s such a versatile piece of kit. And there are so many great stories from the past.
Will you ever become a car collector?
Probably not. I love Porsche 356s. Beautiful. Timeless. As for race cars, I like to look at them but I don’t need to own them.
England for now but eventually Australia. The UK’s been good to me. A lot of amazing friends here. I’ve been here for a lot of my life. I can drive to Silverstone and back without a problem. And I’ve won there in FF, F3, F3000 and F1. Don’t know what it is – maybe it’s all those fast corners.
I can’t imagine what he was thinking when he sent me round Bathurst in a Formula Ford at the age of 18! There wasn’t a lot of maturity on my side at that point…. Through watching and following Jack Brabham, Dad loved single-seaters and undoubtedly he wanted to enjoy that passion through me. He never had the chance or the money to race himself but he loved it. He was just so supportive then, just as he is now. Without him, I would never have left Australia. No doubt about that. He got me racing in cars, out of karts, on car racing tracks, and that was really the beginning for me. Karts weren’t easy for me because of my size and therefore my weight. Cars, though, were different. I felt at home. I was quick straight away in Formula Ford. Dad’s very philosophical as well. Very calm. He’s been tested over the past few years, I must say, and it takes a lot to stir my Dad up, so you can read into that what you will. A quality guy. Hasn’t got an enemy. One of my biggest heroes.
It’s impossible to put into words what she’s done for me. We left Australia and she believed in me probably more than I did myself. It’s intimidating coming to Europe but she pushed down a lot of hurdles and gave me the trust and belief that I could make it. She’s a perfectionist but was also very ready to hand the reins over to Flavio when she knew the time was right. OK. Did we do everything perfectly? Of course not. That’s the way of the world. That’s how it goes. But did we do a lot of things right? Absolutely. Yes. We did.
There’s no shortage of young talent coming through and we need to make it possible for them to make it to F1. We also need to make sure that the F1 cars are still tricky and difficult to handle. The pinnacle must still be a challenge for the best talent to get through and then be tested at that highest level. We can’t have a flat plateau of cars relatively easy to handle over the course of a Grand Prix. That’s not going to be big on people’s priorities but I still think it’s very important. Mitch has a lot of things that I never had. He’s also probably more aware of things than I was at his age and he’s very mature in a number of ways. It’s difficult to be negative about Mitch. Probably patience is the most difficult thing for young drivers these days. After Lewis, and with simulators and that sort of stuff, the pressure’s on to get instant results. So patience is something they have to learn. I get a lot of pleasure in helping Mitch. We’re close. I try to help him as much as I can – not only from my perspective but also via things I’ve learned from some of the great drivers out there. I can also relate to him being homesick, which he was for a while. I didn’t have many people to ring when I first set out, so overall I think Mitch is in a pretty good position. He knows that – and he knows that it’s not a given. Bottom line? I wouldn’t be getting behind someone I didn’t believe in. He’s bloody good.
It’s good that the flag will still fly. Again, it won’t be easy. He’s done well in the junior categories and you cannot not admit that he deserves the opportunity. He knows it starts now. The timing for him is perfect. He’s in a great position to challenge for world titles. I’m always there for him on the phone. He asks questions here and there but like most guys he’ll do it his own way.
A big inspiration for me. The red handkerchief in the pocket I’ve thought about many times, particularly in tough situations, when things weren’t going my way, but if they hand ‘em out it isn’t worth having. That’s what Steve went through. What I loved about him – which we can’t do too much of in our sport, unfortunately – was the psychological warfare he used to put on his opponents. When you do that, you put pressure on yourself as well. You have to walk the walk when you do that and I think he used to love putting his own hackles up to get the best out of myself. If you’re going to start sledging them on the field then he knew it was going to be the same for him when it was his turn. He knew that that was good medicine for him and it was his own reverse psychology on himself, which I loved.
Dealing with criticism
The hardest thing is for people to understand the whole picture. When it’s your peers or people you respect it’s one thing. But if it’s a journalist whose been around for only two or three years and who then takes an opinion on things then obviously that’s not going to cut much ice. First and foremost you listen to family and loved ones. It’s good to be criticised. It’s healthy.
The best-handling, sweetest single-seater you’ve ever driven
If I’m allowed two, the first would be Docko’s F3 Dallara at Brands Hatch – at Stirling’s corner out the back, after Dingle Dell. Heavily cambered. Nice little kerb. Gorgeous corner. The grass, the trees. And a gorgeous-handling little car. F1? I’d say the RB6 at Budapest. I won when Seb had a drive-through and I had to get a lap over Fernando. In practice I couldn’t believe it. We were taking corners a gear up. We put fuel in the car for practice, as we had at Silverstone, just so we wouldn’t show our real pace. The annoying thing was that Seb did me for the pole. I don’t know how many times I got done by a tenth or even a thousandth, putting me on the dirty side. Anyway, that car, around there, was just amazing. Turns eight and nine – the left-right at the top – were what I remember most. Just phenomenal.
Not hugely into the hardware. The memories are more important for me. The national anthem at the first win. The Monaco wins, the British GP wins, the Sao Paolo wins. Brazil because of Senna. I used to watch videos of Senna winning there, over and over again. My celebrations at Monaco both times out of Rascasse I copied what Senna did – that lovely powerslide out of the last corner. I did that both years because that’s what Senna did. So it’s the memories. The trophies are nice to have but they’re not everything. I give all my champagne bottles to the boys in the team. I’ve had my share of podiums, so there’s a fair few for them there. I still have about 15-20 helmets and suits – and most of the kit from my wins. I’m annoyed that I lost my boots from Monaco, though. Probably got nicked when I jumped into the pool…
Images: LAT Photographic
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