Red Bull Racing’s Mark Webber discusses his racing past, present and future, plus the reasons why it’s very important to celebrate properly when you win your second Monaco Grand Prix.
Mark Webber is always an interesting interview. It isn’t a question of being affable (he usually is but there have been exceptions), more a case that you know it isn’t going to be a wasted effort. Mark has the pragmatic no-bullshit Aussie thing off to a fine art. With Robert Kubica out of action he’s probably the only driver left who will call a spade a spade – even when the powers that be would prefer him to stop digging a hole.
But what of Mark himself? Winning the Monaco Grand Prix for a second time elevates him into a very special club and he’s back on terms this year with Sebastian Vettel after being thumped in 2011. As for past weekend's Valencia Grand Prix, he finished in 4th position, having worked his way down from 19th. Mark: “I’m very happy with that, obviously it’s been a tough weekend up until today, but you never know what’s going to happen. In the middle of the race I wasn’t too happy and I didn’t really know what was going on. Then there was a bit of attrition at the front and the strategy worked out. We got it all working well today and we got some good points. It was a crazy day today – but I got points, so I’m happy with that.”
Against that, he’ll turn 36 during the mid-season break and doesn’t yet want to talk about a contract for 2013. This year he’s constantly being linked with a move to Ferrari, just as in seasons past it’s been McLaren or Renault. Just what does he think of all of that stuff? “Fire away,” he says with a grin.
RB: OK Mark, let’s start with an easy one. Studying the Twittersphere is seems that you had a big night out after winning in Monaco. As you’re usually seen sipping fruit juice or water, we’re struggling to imagine what that entails…
MW: Ah well, it was a big night for me – which is actually pretty tame by most people’s standards! It took the edge off though, and it was bloody great! Obviously it’s in the middle of a long campaign – it’s not like we won a championship or anything – but you have to enjoy those moments. It’s important to enjoy it and release the pressure valve a bit with the guys. But I’m not very resilient, so I was a bit dusty for a few days afterwards. But that’s a sensational problem to have.
RB: Do you attach special significance to being a double winner of the Monaco Grand Prix? Most drivers like to say that they don’t attach any special significance to statistics but at the same time they’ll talk about the great honour of winning this race or that. Which is it?
MW: I wouldn’t be one to trivialise what is a hell of good achievement, and certainly something as prestigious as winning Monaco twice is something I’ll reflect on because I do like to look back. Monaco was the first grand prix I ever watched on TV – the year Nigel crashed in the rain going up the hill. I remember wondering how on earth he managed to do that – ‘cos you know everything as a youngster – and then you go there and see the white lines and the water and understand how much horsepower he had…
All grand prix wins are special, that’s completely true, but some stats are better than others. I suspect pretty much everyone will reflect post-career but maybe guys don’t want to when they’re still racing – because they’re still counting. I had a nice chat with Jackie Stewart after the race in Monaco. He said he as really happy for me and that I’d driven sensationally over the weekend – but he also told me not to win it again ‘cos he’s got three…
RB: The victories are always hailed as great drives but are they your best work? Have you had races where you’ve come away feeling you’ve been at the top of your game but that nobody has noticed?
MW: Oh, absolutely! There have been loads of races where you do that. Going right back, driving in the Minardi at Monaco  was a good one. I think I was running eighth, with quite a few big scalps behind me that we really shouldn’t have been ahead of. We had a tyre failure in the race and had to make a stop but I thought my race was pretty handy.
RB: Are those drives as satisfying as winning?
MW: No! But you have to be satisfied because it’s not all the time you have a grand prix car that’s capable of podiums. You generally know, when you look in the mirror, if you got the best out of yourself – in terms of your concentration levels, in terms of mistakes, in terms of setup with the car. Yeah, you’ve done well and you have to draw credit from yourself for that – because if you’re only measuring it on the amount of champagne you spill then there’d be a lot of people who don’t turn up the next weekend.
For example: my Monaco win in 2010 was one of my easier weekends: I could pull a gap when I wanted to: I had Robert [Kubica] and Seb covered and that was fine. It could have been a 250-lap Grand Prix and it would have been OK. Monaco this year was completely different. I had close attention the whole race, I had to manage tyres, it rained at the end… they all have different memories for you.
RB: As is usually the case at this time of year, the rumour mill is picking on you. This year it’s all about you moving to Ferrari. Is it flattering that you’re perceived as being in great demand or does the constant speculation annoy you?
MW: Honestly, a little bit of both. It can be a pain in the arse because it really is still very early in the year. On the other hand there’s lots of reasons to suggest I can be satisfied with those sorts of discussions going on. Vettel’s a high, high-quality driver but so far this year I’ve out-qualified him. If I were 23 I’d probably have a four-year contract right now but I’m not and this is how it is. I’m very happy with how I’m performing at the moment and that’s all I can keep doing.
RB: It must be difficult not to become blasé about the whole experience…
MW: People know how seriously I take the racing and how seriously I take being part of the team here. I try to be as professional as possible and I’m very, very aware of how fortunate I am. Even though I’ve had a long career, I don’t take any of this for granted: I’m driving on the best tracks in the world and working with some of the very best people. It’s incredible to work with people like Adrian but my side of the garage is amazing too.
When I had the six-week break in Australia, I needed that first month to chill out but for the last two weeks I was bored out of my mind. I was all about ‘what am I going to get [with the new car]?’ There’s a constant reminder: when you go out and hit the track it’s incredibly rewarding and satisfying. Of course there are tough days too – but that’s part of it. There has to be some failure in every success because that’s what sport is: I can’t think of anyone who’s had a seamless career – even Ali hit the canvas.
But there’s that feeling you get, when you’re on the grid and the guys walk away from the car, and you’re about to go. If you’re not doing this, what’s going to fill that void?
Nothing ever will. But you pick up new challenges. You’re still a relatively young man in your 40s, you can still challenge yourself. Particularly if you have the type of makeup I have: F1 drivers are competitive and driven and passionate about what we do. We want to find things that float our boat. There are mountains I want to hike and places I want to see.
However, at the moment, the great thing is that I still have the option to continue in a really good fashion. Yeah, I’ll definitely do things post-career that I haven’t done before – and that will be very rewarding for me, maybe even up there with my grands prix victories in terms of personal satisfaction.
I love it when people say you can’t do it. It’s brilliant.