As the Formula One pre-season testing got underway before the Bahrain Grand Prix weekend, we visited the Porsche Center to meet legendary Australian racing driver, Mark Webber. The nine-time Formula One Grand Prix winner, FIA World Endurance Champion, television personality, and Porsche ambassador reflected on his illustrious career, his passion for Porsche cars, and his take on the 2023 Formula One season while in conversation with Bahrain Confidential.
How do you like being back in Bahrain and how are you spending your time here?
Good memories here in Bahrain. I’ve been coming here for nearly 20 years, first as part of Formula One and then again with the World Endurance Championship. I’m very lucky to receive a car from Porsche here – the Panera GTS is awesome to drive around from the hotel to the track and do a little sightseeing in Bahrain.
You’ve been in the game for a long time before you retired in 2017. What’s the one thing you miss and one thing you don’t miss about racing?
I miss the camaraderie that comes with working with a big team. It’s always good fun to work towards big goals and trying to achieve success together. I don’t miss the diet and the huge amount of travel. I’m still travelling a lot now, but not as much as I probably did when I was racing. It allows me to balance between family and professional life a little more, which is something I’m certainly enjoying.
What do you remember about your race during the first Bahrain Grand Prix in 2004 and your last one here in 2013?
In 2004, I was driving the Jaguar and I think we had pretty high degradation during the race. We did finish the race, however. My last one here with Red Bull was in 2013 and it was a challenging result for me. Unfortunately, I never made it to the podium here in Bahrain – one of the only tracks where I didn’t finish in the top three. Perhaps, in another lifetime, I finally get there. Nevertheless, I always enjoyed coming here, even thought the results weren’t overly strong for me at this venue.
Your first World Endurance Championship (WEC) title was set here back in 2015 while driving the Porsche 919. Is there anything you remember about that particular race?
Absolutely, I won’t forget that race. It was a very challenging one. We had some issues that we needed to manage with the car. Timo and Brendan, my two teammates and I had to work pretty hard to get that victory. The mechanics did an amazing job during the six-hour race. We kept ourselves in the fight and finished the race to get the world championship on our terms. It was a hard race and it ended in a nice celebration that night.
What led you to become a driver manager and a TV personality since your retirement?
Landing into TV was funny because I never thought I would when I stopped racing. When I made a small appearance on TV, I quite enjoyed it. Obviously, I work with really good people, so it’s fun. I’ve got other partners in Formula One that I work with on TV as well, so it works out pretty well that I get to do a little bit of media, go to some races, and stay involved in the business.
The management side of things worked out with Oscar (Piastri) rising through the junior categories. He has had tremendous success in the last three or four years and we have been supporting him through his junior career. The support continues as he makes his Formula One season debut this year with McLaren.
What do you think are the challenges to drivers graduating from junior racing categories to F1 today? How was it when you were making your way into F1?
Formula One is always the biggest step. Of course, the travel is a lot more intense. The media, marketing, and commercial side of the sport is very different from the junior categories. Someone moving from there to Formula One has got to get used to a lot while managing their performance. The team size drastically increases from junior categories where you have a team of probably 15-20 people. In Formula One, you have 80 or 90 people traveling with you. The expectation and just how you operate as a professional is very different.
It was similar in our day as well. The biggest difference is that some of the cars back then were probably more advanced. The competition gap was bigger. Now, they’ve levelled the field with regulations and manage the cars more in terms of the software and the strategies employed by the teams. The first year of any Formula One driver is perhaps the most important and special – one that every new driver looks forward to.
Which teams do you see rising to the top ranks this Formula One season? And who would be a driver to watch (apart from Oscar, of course)?
Red Bull still is the clear favorite. The team is looking very strong. Ferrari also looks pretty handy. It is going to be interesting to see the upper midfield (third and fourth positions) with Mercedes, Aston Martin, and Alpine getting into a good battle. With young talents coming in this year, of course everyone has their eyes on Oscar (McLaren), but Max (Red Bull) is still someone that we all look at in awe. He’s on top of his driving game and there aren’t many chinks in his armor. He has some phenomenal strengths.
Have you noticed any changes to the audience of Formula One as a sport since the Netflix series began airing?
The way that the sport is positioned out there today has changed massively. There’s no question that a new generation of young viewers are being attracted to the sport. However, never before have we had more females watch the sport, which is a big trend. The digital component with online streaming of the shows and the races has allowed everyone the opportunity to watch and gravitate to some of the racing heroes, no matter who they are. We should be very proud of how a sport can be pushed to different audiences and create an awareness about it. Some of it is a little bit cringeworthy, but it’s an easy way to consume content.
What is your favorite Porsche model and your favorite place to drive it in and why?
I love the GT3 RS four-liter 997. It’s a beautiful car, probably my favorite 911 of all time. I enjoyed driving it in the Alps in France. It’s always nice to have a mixture of motorway and nice open country roads where you’ve got some good elevation changes and a great view.