Just three races into his FIA World Endurance Championship switch from Formula One, Mark Webber is high on life and revitalized with his fresh opportunity to race with Porsche’s new LMP1-H program.
The Australian, now 37, had spent the last 12 seasons in F1, and the last seven with Red Bull Racing. Winning still occurred, but politics often dictated the direction more than outright performance.
Now, Webber’s keen to embrace some of the things he showed as a then-20-something starting out in Europe, racing for Mercedes in FIA GT and at Le Mans with a return almost to his roots.
This week, all he has to do is create a new, lasting Le Mans memory. As he returns here for the first time in 15 years, his aerial acrobatics with Mercedes in 1999 continue to make highlight reels for all the wrong reasons.
But Webber said purely to finish is the goal, since first-year programs historically tend to struggle on reliability.
On the whole this season, he’s working on being part of a team that truly embodies the word, even though he was brought into the team to be a major media storyline.
Webber views it as having co-drivers rather than teammates, and has worked tirelessly to fit into the Porsche culture.
“The most important thing was to integrate myself within the team,” Webber told Sportscar365. “Porsche has a great motor racing heritage. With 230 people we’re getting the harmony together; it’s been really rewarding.
“At this stage of my career, it’s a perfect tonic for my adrenaline levels.”
The car itself – the Porsche 919 Hybrid – has been a thrill to drive for him thus far.
“For me, conceptually, it’s been very rewarding,” Webber explained. “The four-wheel drive is exciting. There’s a huge amount of power. Going quick on the straights … driving at night … there’s lots of parts of the job which I didn’t experience in previous categories which you get to enjoy here.”
Considering Red Bull was known in F1 circles as producing a car that was optimized more to Sebastian Vettel’s style than to Webber’s, Webber is now in a position where compromise is everything since he shares the No. 20 entry with Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley.
“That’s something which has been one of the bigger learning curves, to be honest,” he said. “You prepare the car to factor in driving positions and driver sensitivities. Timo and Brendon are sensitive to things that I’m not, and vice versa. That makes the compromise.”
Porsche veteran Bernhard has still taken in a wealth of knowledge from his new teammate.
“When another driver from another category steps in, you learn so much more,” Bernhard said. “Because he has a different outside view, there’s new things he brings into the team. He’s very good with downforce and higher speed corners, and that’s what you can learn.”
Hartley had dreams of racing against Webber in F1, but despite developmental deals with Red Bull and Mercedes, neither the timing nor opportunity was right for the New Zealander. Now he’s sharing the seat of a car that rivals an F1 chassis technology-wise, anyway.
These three will likely lead Porsche’s charge into the future. For Webber, who now is in the FIA WEC at its relative infancy – only its third year – he has a chance to build something new with a championship that has an increasing LMP1 manufacturer presence.
“It’s all positive, with no negatives,” he said. “With Porsche, Toyota and Audi, and Nissan coming, there’s a real force of energy here. It’s all top, quality, professional paid drivers in all those seats doing a focused and disciplined job. Teams get to showcase themselves. There’s some exciting stuff coming.”