Despite firmly denying rumours that he could join Porsche’s new Le Mans effort for 2014, Mark Webber has announced that he will indeed do so.
He will leave Red Bull at the end of the season to return to the sportscar series where his top level racing career began.
Anyone who has ever frequented YouTube racing videos will surely have seen the astonishing incident where Peter Dumbreck’s Mercedes CLR takes off, flips and lands in the surrounding forest from the 1999 Le Mans race. At the practice session before the race Webber himself suffered the same incident as Mercedes encountered bizarre stability issues at high-speed, causing them to pull out of the event.
These dangerous events, in which fortunately no lives were lost, caused Webber to state that he would never return to the dangers of Le Mans. But fifteen years later Webber will return to the new, full factory funded, works Porsche team who themselves are returning to the endurance circuit after a long absence.
Porsche are the most successful team in Le Mans history, with 16 victories, most of them coming from the manufacturer’s dominance of the Group C period in the 1980s, when their 956 took four successive victories.
The battle between them, Audi and Toyota in the LMP1 class looks set to be enthralling. The sportscar racing scene is at one of the highest levels of quality ever seen, with six former F1 drivers currently driving for Audi and Toyota alongside great drivers such as Tom Kristensen, Benoit Treluyer and Stephane Sarrazin.
Webber has always loved pushing himself to his very limit and challenging himself against the very best drivers in the world. Sportscar racing has much less focus on the tyre management which has been the bane of Webber’s life recently. He believes racing should be flat out and that everybody should be pushing as fast as possible and in Le Mans this is certainly the case.
It is this aspect, rather than the unease within the Red Bull team between himself, management and his team-mate and built up by the media, that is likely to have led to this decision to switch disciplines.
Webber’s decision precedes one of his favourite events, the British grand prix. British fans, more than 100000 of whom will be travelling to the Silverstone circuit over the weekend, haven’t had much home success to cheer for in recent years. Lewis Hamilton’s supreme wet-weather victory in 2008 was the last British win.
With Jenson Button aiming for a points finish, the chances of home success this year depend mainly on whether Hamilton’s Mercedes team have sorted the tyre degradation issues which have plagued their season. At the last track resembling Silverstone, Barcelona, Mercedes struggled with horrific wear and this weekend will be a clear indicator of how far the team have progressed.
The team are confident, as are the fans; but whether or not Hamilton can challenge Vettel, Webber and Alonso will be a mystery until a hopefully sunny Sunday.