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GP Week : Issue 185
22 GPWEEK.com // 22 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION Mark Webber has decided to bring down the curtain on his Formula One career at the end of the year after 12 seasons competing at the top of the motorsport ladder. The straight- talking Aussie will join Porsche’s sportscar programme which includes a crack at the legendary 24 hours of Le Mans endurance race. Rumours of the move have been circulating for a while and I have to say the timing of Webber’s announcement, on the eve of the British Grand Prix, didn’t come as a big surprise, particularly in light of the breakdown in relations between Webber and teammate Sebastian Vettel following the team orders fiasco at the Malaysian Grand Prix. I’m sorry to see Webber leave, as I am sure most of the paddock is. I recall, as a 15-year-old, watching his debut in the 2002 Australian Grand Prix, that magical fifth place in a back-of-the-grid Minardi, the sheer delight in the cockpit as he crossed the line to thunderous applause and loud cheers from his home crowed, punching the air as if he’d won. I remember in 2003, the same year one-shot qualifying was introduced, waiting with anticipation to watch his mastery over one lap as he punched above his Jaguar’s weight every Saturday (below). I remember wondering if a talent as bright as his, married to unbreakable willpower, determination and grit, would ever get the opportunity to prove its worth or whether it would be extinguished at the end of a career of driving middling machinery. In the end Webber did find himself driving arguably the quickest car on the grid. But unfortunately for him he also found himself paired with an extremely quick teammate in Sebastian Vettel. Looking at Webber and Vettel’s results over the four-and-a -bit years of their partnership, you would be forgiven for thinking Webber was firmly put in the shade by the younger German. There’s no denying Vettel’s speed and talent. Webber would be the first to acknowledge that. But he isn’t as far ahead of Webber as their results might suggest. Personally, I think it’s wrong to label Webber a nearly man. I think he is definitely championship material. It’s just that, for several reasons – not least the fact that Vettel was clearly the ‘chosen one’ in the team – it hasn’t worked for him. Many will say that he had a shot at it 2010 and he blew it. But that’s being harsh. Yes, he had that accident in South Korea. But Vettel had some embarrassing offs too, not least when he speared into Jenson Button’s McLaren at that year’s Belgian Grand Prix under braking for the Bus Stop chicane. In fact, I was discussing Webber’s career with a colleague and friend on Friday when he made a very illuminating comment. “Mark's career is like getting a dodgy call from a ref (except from his own team!) and then being asked to come back and fight again and again. Eventually that wears you down,” he said to me. I don’t know Webber personally, and I’ve only covered five of the 206 Grands Prix he has driven in. But as a fan of the sport who has watched Webber’s entire career, I will be sorry to see him go. But I can’t help but feel he’s making the right decision in moving to sportscars. For one thing, the racing in the WEC seems to be a lot more ‘pure’ than in Formula One, where Sunday’s race often seems like a sub-plot to all the jibber-jabber that goes on over the weekend. The out-and-out racer that he is, Webber is probably yearning for pure, simple, flat-out racing again and is wearying of all the games and politics and posturing that goes on in Formula One. Webber also seems to be growing disillusioned with the direction the sport has taken over the last couple of seasons, which have seen more of an emphasis on conservation than flat-out racing. Besides, he may have felt his time in the sport was drawing to a close anyway. Why then would he spend a winter of testing and a season or two adapting to the new formula? “There’s lots of reasons that come into the pot, I think, when any sportsman or woman comes to that time in their career where they want to call it a day,” Webber said over the British Grand Prix weekend. “That’s another small ingredient: there’s going to be big, big changes in this sport next year, so I may as well go and do those big, big changes where my future is going to be.” Pretty logical when you think about it ... OPINION ABHISHEK TAKLE Contributing Writer TIMING Is EVERyTHING