Mark Webber has announced he is to leave Formula One at the end of the 2013 season, to join Porsche’s sportscar team as it returns to the top rank at Le Mans next year.
The 36-year-old Australian has signed a new deal with Porsche “that extends over several years”, and will see him race in the WEC, alongside works drivers Timo Bernhard, Romain Dumas and Neel Jani.
“It’s an honour for me to join Porsche at its return to the top category in Le Mans and in the sportscar world endurance championship,” Mark said. “Porsche has written racing history as a manufacturer and stands for outstanding technology and performance at the highest level. I can’t wait to pilot one of the fastest sportscars in the world.”
Bit of a turnaround, then, considering the last time he raced at Le Mans, he vowed never to compete again in prototypes. Mark’s raced twice at La Sarthe, in 1998 and 1999 with Mercedes-Benz, driving the rather bombastic CLR alongside Bernd Schneider, whom Mark regarded as “a big brother”. The ’99 race was particularly terrifying: the car was rebuilt following a crash during qualifying, only to get horrendously airborne during the race, back-flipping spectacularly. Luckily, nobody was injured. “The last time I got out of a Mercedes sports car was when it was upside down,” the affable Aussie notes on his website.
Clearly then, the lure of racing for Porsche was too much to resist. Surprised that Webber’s leaving Formula One? His troubles with Red Bull and Vettel have been well documented, most notably at this year’s Malaysian GP after Vettel ignored team orders and overtook Webber to take the victory. But, he can certainly bow out with his head held high: while never a world champion, he’s scored 36 podium finishes, 11 pole positions and 15 fastest laps.
Martin Brundle was one of the first to offer his thoughts. “Good luck to Mark Webber in the next chapter of his life in 2014 sports car racing. I’ll miss him and his honesty in F1”, he said on Twitter.
His lantern-jawed honesty will indeed be missed in Formula One, but there’s no denying Webber in a Porsche Le Mans car is a tantalising prospect, especially as Porsche now gears up to stop Audi overtaking its 16-win total at La Sarthe.
What’s also tantalising, is the driver who will now replace Webber at Red Bull. Speculation is mounting that Kimi Raikkonen will take his place, but who would you like to see race alongside Vettel? And, are you sad to see Marko go?