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
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.
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.