Mark Webber called time on his F1 career today, with the announcement that he is going to join Porsche in sportscar racing, for a crack at the Le Mans 24 hours.
The news comes as little surprise after the story had been rumoured for many months, with Webber never denying it. The path was clear after the Malaysian Grand Prix fallout in March with team mate Sebastian Vettel, where the German ovetook his team mate to win the race, despite team orders to the contrary.
Webber has also been critical of the direction F1 has taken lately, especially with the short life Pirelli tyres and sees this year as the ideal stepping off point, as F1 enters a new era with hybrid powertrains in 2014.
“I think, any sportsman or women comes to that time in their career where they want to call it a day. That’s another small ingredient: there’s going to be big, big changes in this sport next year, so I may as well go and do those big, big changes where my future is going to be.
“The timing is perfect for me. Very, very excited about my new chapter and the new challenge ahead. One of the most famous and most well-respected brands in automotive and motor racing in Porsche, so that’s something which personally I’m very satisfied about taking on. The decision has been there for quite a long time for me actually. So, I’ve known for quite a while, I’ve had a plan and I’ve stuck to it.”
“Dietrich (Mateschitz) has been completely up to speed with my thinking in the last six to eight months, so Dietrich has been absolutely on board and on message with where I’ve been at. He’s certainly encouraged me not to rush my decision when I approached him earlier in the season. I think basically all of the right channels and avenues that we went through to get the message across as subtly as we could in terms of the announcement was done in the right way.”
The news leaves a space alongside Vettel for next season in one of the best cars on the grid. Kimi Raikkonen is the favourite to fill it, but Red Bull also has two young drivers in Daniel Ricciardo and Jean Eric Vergne waiting for their turn. Neither has shown enough yet to justify the chance and with constructors’ championship points at a premium, the team will be looking for the most consistent performer available to fill Webber’s seat. His points after all, have helped Red Bull win the last three Constructors’ Championships. And that championship is the one that is linked to the prizemoney.
Webber is likely to drive with greater freedom in the remaining races, but if he finds himself in a situation where he is battling with Vettel it’s unlikely that he will feel obliged to play the team game, which would make for interesting viewing. Vettel will be mindful of that.