MARK Webber yesterday stunned Formula 1 when he announced he is leaving the sport after this season to race Porsche sports cars.
Ahead of the British Grand Prix, Webber revealed that he has signed a multi-year contract and will compete in Porsche’s new LMP1 sports prototype at the Le Mans 24-Hours race and in the world endurance championship next year. He has struggled this season, failing to win a grand prix and is fifth in the drivers’ championship, 63 points behind his Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel. The German is on course for a fourth consecutive title.
Webber first raised doubts about his future with Red Bull after Vettel ignored team orders and overtook him for victory at the Malaysian GP in March. But the 36-year-old Australian insisted on his website that the controversy had nothing to do with his decision, adding that “I’ve had a personal plan. I’ve stuck with it. This is the next chapter.”
Red Bull confirmed Webber was leaving and said it would make a decision on a replacement later in the season.
“I am sure Mark thought long and hard before making what has no doubt been a very difficult decision,” Red Bull principal Christian Horner said. “His achievements in Formula One are extensive and I am sure he will continue to push hard and build on that record until the end of the season. We support Mark’s decision, he has been an excellent addition to the team since joining us in 2007 and we wish him all the best.”
Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen, a good friend of Vettel’s, has become the 4-9 favourite to replace Webber. The Finn said he would enjoy racing alongside Vettel but “still had no answer about” whether he would remain at Lotus or join Red Bull in 2014. Webber said a return to F1 was “highly unlikely” though he acknowledged he did have some opportunities to remain in the series before he settled on Porsche. He said he had no regrets in a career that had its “ups and downs” and would especially miss the camaraderie of fellow drivers and the feeling that comes with driving an F1 car.
“I realise F1 is seen as the absolute pinnacle of motorsport and I’ve worked with some incredible people, in particular [Red Bull’s] Adrian Newey,” Webber said on his website.
“I’ve driven in some of the toughest and most challenging conditions and circuits, and against some incredible drivers which I’ll continue to do until the end of the year. Will I miss some of this? Yes, of course, but time doesn’t stand still for anyone and it’s time to move on to my next challenge.”
Since joining F1 in 2002, Webber has won nine races and had 36 podium places in a career that also included stints at Williams and Minardi. His best season came in 2010 when he just lost a four-way battle for the title that was eventually won by Vettel.