Mark Webber – world champion!
Porsche’s WEC double
In 1999 Mark Webber made what he must have thought at the time was a permanent exit from sportscar racing. More than that, for a short while it looked like it might have been an exit from the sport entirely, so traumatised had Webber been by the two separate, horrifying ‘flying’ accidents in the Mercedes CLR that year at Le Mans (below).
But return to the cockpit he did, only now with one that didn’t have a roof. He signed with Arrows F1 as a test driver, in a deal that also saw him race in the International Formula 3000 Championship. Sportscar racing was past history for Webber; he was back in openwheelers – the dream of Formula 1 and becoming world champion was still very much alive.
Two years later he would make his F1 grand prix debut. In 2010 he would go into the final grand prix of the season as one of four drivers in contention to become that year’s world champion.
Sadly, it was not to be for the Australian. Still, when he retired from F1 at the end of 2013, he left with a proud record: nine wins, 13 poles, and third overall in the drivers’ championship on three occasions.
Having exited F1, Webber promptly (and somewhat unexpectedly) returned from whence he came – sportscars. And now, two years into his second career in endurance sportscar racing, he is a world champion.
A marque of the calibre of Porsche was never likely to bring a half-baked effort to the not insubstantial challenge of developing a hybrid prototype to take on the likes of existing LMP1 players Audi and Toyota. So it proved; the Porsche Hybrid 919 gave a good account of itself in its debut 2014 season – for a while Webber even looked a chance to win Le Mans – and this year it did the business.
At Le Mans Webber was part of the secondplaced crew in a Porsche one-two (it was Porsche’s first victory at the Sarthe since 1998 – back when Webber was part of the opposition Mercedes driver squad…), and Porsche wrapped up the manufacturers’ title with still one round to run.
That just left the drivers’ title. Webber and team-mates Timo Bernhard and young Kiwi Brendon Hartley went into the final at Bahrain with a 13-point advantage over their Audi rivals. However, early on they looked in big trouble as the car developed a throttle actuator problem. They lost five laps while the problem was fixed, leaving them with a huge task for the remainder of the six hours.
When the problem returned late in the race, the situation looked grave. Crucially the Porsche technicians were able to do a quick fix at a pitstop, and Webber was back on his way. In the end they were saved by a series of factors: Webber did manage to coax the car home at reduced pace in fifth place, nine laps down, while at the head of the field Porsche team-mates Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb raced on to their first win of the year, thus denying Audi trio Andre Lotterer, Benoit Treluyer and Marcel Fassler a victory that could have made them world champions.
That’s what you call a team effort.