RIGHT BACK INTO GEAR

Mark Web­ber has main­tained his con­nec­tions with rac­ing af­ter leav­ing For­mula One in late 2013. Those links will come in handy now that he is swap­ping the driver’s seat for a com­men­ta­tor’s chair

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - TV - JAMES WIGNEY

For rac­ing ace Mark Web­ber, the Aus­tralian Grand Prix was al­ways the one that got away. Across a For­mula One ca­reer that spanned 12 sea­sons, 215 races and nine wins – and de­spite a fight­ing fifth there in his very first race in 2002 – Mel­bourne was one of only two tracks where he failed to record a podium fin­ish.

But, hav­ing re­tired from F1 at the end of 2013, when he re­turned to where it all be­gan as a com­men­ta­tor for Chan­nel 10 at last year’s Aus­tralian GP, the last place he wanted to be was back out on the track.

“I didn’t miss be­ing in the car at all to be hon­est,” he says. “I en­joyed just be­ing down at the races and soak­ing it up – but I didn’t miss be­ing in the car.”

Rather in his first stint as an ob­server, he saw it as his job to put arm­chair en­thu­si­asts be­hind the wheel of the car and give them in­sights into the ex­tra­or­di­nary strains on the mind and body that come with hurtling a piece of hi-tech ma­chin­ery around a twist­ing track at speeds well in ex­cess of 300km/h.

“It’s re­ally about me talk­ing about rac­ing from a driver’s per­spec­tive,” he says. “What peo­ple will be go­ing through and what it’s like in the car both men­tally and phys­i­cally. I am en­joy­ing giv­ing the fans some­thing they might not quite get, es­pe­cially in For­mula One terms.”

Web­ber, who is still ac­tive in the rac­ing world driv­ing for Porsche in the World En­durance Cham­pi­onship, has broad­ened his com­men­tat­ing role for Chan­nel 10 this year. In ad­di­tion to call­ing the Aus­tralian GP next month, he will also co-host this week­end’s Clip­sal 500.

The Ade­laide event marks the re­turn of the V8 Su­per­cars to the net­work, which this year will bring fans six live V8 Su­per­cars Cham­pi­onship races, live For­mula One races, live Mo­toGP races and eight V8 Su­per­cars high­lights pro­grams.

Later in the year Web­ber will also re­turn for the Bathurst 100 and, although he has driven on both the Ade­laide and Bathurst tracks, Web­ber ad­mits he will have to bone up on the finer points of driv­ing tour­ing cars be­fore his stints be­hind the mic.

Shar­ing a Porsche with other driv­ers in the World En­durance Cham­pion ship last year has also given him a win­dow in to the team as­pects.

“From a team com­po­nent and driver com­po­nent I have been do­ing that a lot more now with my team­mates from Porsche,” he says. “But I am go­ing to have to do a bit of dig­ging and re­search.

“I want to do a good job and I want to be con­fi­dent and know what I am talk­ing about.

“I will be able to know ex­actly what’s go­ing on in the cars and pit stops and team work and what the teams ex­pect from the driv­ers in cer­tain sec­tions of the race and get that across to the fans.”

The hottest F1 story of last year, cer­tainly from an Aus­tralian per­spec­tive, was the rise of Daniel Ric­cia­rdo.

The Perth-born driver last year look Web­ber’s place with the In­finiti Red Bull team, and stunned all com­ers by win­ning three races and fin­ish­ing third in the World Driver’s Cham­pi­onship.

With the de­par­ture of Se­bas­tian Vet­tel to Fer­rari this year, Ric­cia­rdo will now be the se­nior driver at Red Bull.

Web­ber pre­dicts a “solid” sea­son for his com­pa­triot in 2015, but nom­i­nates the Mercedes pair of Lewis Hamil­ton and Nico Ros­berg as the team to catch.

“(Red Bull) will be a solid out­fit and to match last year will be an­other good achieve­ment for Daniel,” Web­ber says. “He will want more – he will want to fight for the cham­pi­onship and Lewis and Nico will be the hard­est nuts to crack.

“Mercedes are the clear favourites. They had a great sea­son last year and should come out of the gates very strongly. Wil­liams are a bit of a dark horse as well.”

Web­ber is in prepa­ra­tion too for the com­ing World En­durance Cham­pi­onship sea­son, which kicks off in April with the 6 Hours Of Sil­ver­stone in the UK, ahead of the jewel in the crown, The Le Mans 24 Hours in June.

Pic­ture: AP PHOTO

Mark Web­ber ex­pects Daniel Ric­cia­rdo (right) to have a solid year in For­mula One with Red Bull but feels Mercedes is still the team to beat.

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