In a move that was surprising and then again not, Australian Mark Webber is leaving Red Bull and Formula One (F1). The veteran driver is not retiring though as he has signed a multi-year contract with Porsche to drive their new sports car prototype (LMP1) starting next year.
Webber has had a long-running feud with teammate and three-time champion Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull, with their rapport deteriorating after a confrontation at the end of the Malaysian Grand Prix earlier this season. Vettel disregarded team orders and barreled ahead of Webber, almost causing a wreck. After the race, in a staging room just prior to entering the podium, second place Webber lashed out at the race winner Vettel and their relationship has been icy since. Webber inferred he would leave the team after that episode but he had somewhat withdrawn from that thinking as there was talk that he would be back in 2014.
The 36 year old Webber has been racing full-time in F1 since 2002 when he joined Paul Stoddart’s Minardi team. The following season, Webber moved over to Jaguar for two years, but when Ford sold the team to Red Bull, Webber signed with Williams for ’05 and ’06 when he managed to earn his first podium. His manager, Flavio Briatore, helped get Webber a ride with Red Bull in ’07. In 2009, Red Bull brought over Vettel from its Toro Rosso operation. That same year saw Webber obtain his first victory but found himself playing second fiddle to Vettel for the remainder of his F1 career.
Webber’s best season was 2010, when he led the points for most of the season with 10 podiums and four wins, plus five poles along the way. He finished third place in the final standings just 14 markers behind Vettel with Fernando Alonso second, just four points back.
Webber currently sits fifth in the points after seven events 63 points back of teammate Vettel. Webber had a miserable week in China this year that saw him run out of fuel qualifying and then after an on-track incident sent him to the pits, a wheel came off and his day was done. Otherwise, he has had a solid year with four top fives.
It’s rumored that Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus may move over to the similarly Renault powered Red Bull team as Webber’s replacement. Red Bull’s other team, Toro Rosso, has two drivers in Jean-Eric Vergne and Daniel Ricciardo who may be on the short list for Webber’s seat.
Webber has driven sportscars before as a young man before joining F1 and in fact, he drove another German company’s sportscar, Mercedes, at Le Mans. Webber joining Porsche was a coup of sorts and will certainly help the German car manufacturer regarding their brand new assault on Le Mans next season with the fastest sportscars in the world.
Whether age was a determining factor is not known for sure but admittedly, a driver who would be 37 later this year is certainly a reason to bow out at this juncture. Webber has nine F1 victories to his credit with 36 podiums and 11 poles. 12 races remain in the F1 season with the teams at Silverstone this weekend for the British Grand Prix – where Webber won his last race a season ago.
Additional source: Racing Reference
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