The BBC’s decision to allow Mark Webber and Fernando Alonso to interview one another – to celebrate their concurrent 200 race milestone in Formula One – was a masterstroke. What transpired on air wasn’t anything but consummate respect between two drivers, but also a hint that both men were slightly weary of the politics that are currently underpinning their sport.
Fernando was first to admit that even the simple act of driving a go-kart was sometimes more enjoyable than piloting his F138 around some of the worlds fastest tracks. Mark was quick to agree, commenting: “You want to race at the highest level, at the best circuits and the best drivers… But you’re also open to the fact that it’s not the bubble…”
Fernando: “There’s life outside Formula One”.
The “bubble” of Formula One is one that has become more and more claustrophobic for Webber of late. Despite team-order issues at Red Bull once again rearing their head, it is the tyre issue that no doubt plagues Mark’s sport ethics. When you spend your entire career climbing the ladder to Formula One, nobody wants to spend a Sunday afternoon attacking corners like a Toyota Yaris carting ten wedding cakes.
On this note, it isn’t surprising to hear Mark say that a lot of things were going through his mind during the last few laps in Sepang. Add to this Bernie Ecclestone’s caveat about the 2014 regulations becoming: “a fuel economy run” if we’re not careful, and a case for Webber moving on to greener pastures (or faster racing) begins to make more sense.
Yes, Porsche has denied signing a 5-year contract with Webber, but then so did Ferrari when asked if pre-agreements had been made with Alonso in 2009. Le Mans is unfinished business for Webber and as a sportsman enamored with the history of the motor racing, a Le Mans crown alongside a Silverstone and Monaco victory would look none too shabby above the fireplace.
Tyre and fuel conservation now are the major overriding considerations in Formula One – almost like sports car racing was in the 1960’s and 70’s. In contrast, Le Mans is now almost a sprint race. You only have to look at Peugeot’s reluctance to slow down their cars at Le Mans in 2010 despite increased engine stress (caused by increased grip which eventually ended their race) to realize that a performance overlap between sportscar racing and Formula One has occurred. If you’re a manufacturer keen to display you’re superiority over your competitors, entering the conservative era of Formula One isn’t going to sell you many units.
Hence Porsche’s… And Audi’s… And Toyota’s decision to commit to sports car racing; it is now the elite category in world motorsport, despite Formula One’s claims to the mantle. As such, a move to sports cars is just the tonic Mark Webber might need, but more than this, it is the team-work involved in WEC which might be the greatest allure of all.
Webber always refers to the guys working on his side of the garage as “the troops”. There is genuine affection there and they are the refuge he seeks amidst the backdrop of politics, media demands and inter-team squabbles. Furthermore, any hypothetical team-mates in WEC will be just that – team-mates – working towards a common goal, a shared interest; something he hasn’t had at Red Bull since day one. This is probably one reason why he undoubtedly could never agree to terms with Ferrari; undisputed number two status aside, partnering Fernando at Ferrari would’ve strained the friendship.
Who knows? Maybe a few years down the track the pair of them could share a seat around the Circuit de la Sarthe…
Images courtesy of Octane Photographic and F1 Fanatic