Mark Webber Will Leave Formula 1 and Join New Porsche Le Mans Team for 2014
In a move surprising absolutely nobody following Formula 1 this season, Mark Webber has announced he will be leaving F1 in favor of Porsche’s new LMP1 Le Mans team; he will spend 2014 competing in the World Endurance Championship (where the 24 Hours of Le Mans is just one of the eight stamina-challenging races). The notice comes after months of speculation about Webber’s future at the Red Bull F1 team, ignited by teammate Sebastian Vettel’s overtaking of Webber at this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix against team orders.
Since then, Webber’s season has hit a bit of a snag, and so far he is performing noticeably worse this year than last. He is still finishing in strong positions, but has roughly half the number of points as his teammate, who is leading the Drivers’ Championship. Although the pair have led Red Bull to place first consistently since 2010, the rivalry coming to a head this year has existed for quite some time. The 2010 Turkish Grand Prix saw both Webber and Vettel at the front, and Vettel’s attempt to overtake Webber was blocked, causing Vettel to retire and knocking Webber back to finish third. An article by the BBC chronicles the rivalry between the two athletes.
In a press conference today, Webber stated that his tense relationship with Vettel was not the reason for his abandoning F1 for endurance racing, and insisted leaving the top-tier racing series was part of a “personal plan.” After all, Webber has been competing in F1 for 13 years now since he signed on to Arrows as a test driver in 2000. Webber has raced at Le Mans before, both in 1998 and the following year, although he retired in both. Despite vowing never to compete again in the most famous endurance race in motorsports, Webber seems to be dead set on not letting the track win.
Porsche’s new team will have a hard time at Le Mans in the LMP1 category, however, due to Audi’s continued dominance of the race (the team has taken first in 7 of the last 8 races, for a total of 10 since Joest Racing switched to Audis in 1999). Webber knows the tracks, and, with the exception of Le Mans and Fuji, all are scheduled stops on this year’s F1 circuit. He will hopefully have a less contemptuous relationship with his Porsche colleagues next year. Le Mans veterans Romain Dumas, Neel Jani, and Timo Bernhard are all signed on to Porsche’s team in addition to Webber.