MOTORSPORT: Fear factor catches up with Webber

Australia’s top racer of this century has revealed the real reason he’s retiring. Porsche can clinch back-to-back manufacturer titles in the World Endurance Championship this weekend. Three of its drivers could become world champions too, but the retiring Mark Webber won’t be among them this time.The Six Hours of Shanghai is the penultimate race of Webber’s career, with his finale coming at the ninth and last round of this year’s WEC in Bahrain on November 19.

Mark Webber
Mark Webber

Webber, who is drawing his professional career to a close soon after turning 40, has admitted that he has become fearful of another major crash like he had at Interlagos in Brazil two years ago – his first season driving a Porsche 919 Hybrid in the WEC – when he was concussed and badly bruised.

“Sometimes I’ve been in the car in the last while and I’ve said, ‘Why am I in the car?’” Webber told recently.

“And when you ask yourself that question it’s time to stop.

“On race weekends a bit more often I think, ‘I’d rather be somewhere else’. That’s not good.”

The 919 Hybrid, with a 2.0-litre V4 turbocharged petrol engine and two energy recovery systems, produces more than 900 horsepower (662kW).

Webber said the Interlagos crash, in which he collided with a GT Ferrari, had been “a really hard moment … horrible” for his wife, Ann.

“I was very lucky. It was an enormous impact. And it was the longest time I’d ever taken to recover from a crash. That was an education, to say the least.”

Webber said another crash when one of his Porsche co-drivers, New Zealander Brendon Hartley, tangled with a GT Porsche in the opening round of this year’s WEC at Silverstone in Britain had increased his concerns.

He also recounted that two massive flips in a Mercedes CLK GTR at Le Mans in France in 1999, before his 12 years in Formula 1, had been “one of the hardest points of my career to get over”.

He will bow out without having won the 24 Hours of Le Mans, saying: “Maybe the race and I didn’t love each other.”

Runner-up to another Porsche there last year, his 919 had a faulty water pump this year and wound up 38 laps behind the victorious Porsche of Switzerland’s Neel Jani, France’s Romain Dumas and Germany’s Marc Lieb – who are set to be this season’s WEC’s champion drivers despite not having won any of the four six-hour races since Le Mans in June.

But Webber said: “Le Mans this year was exceptional for me in terms of performance. It was clarification that I did everything I could. I was pretty much the fastest guy there for Porsche.”

He has no regrets that he won’t race there again, knowing that victory could elude him no matter how many times he took part.

“You can do it for five more years, have a technical failure, your teammate crashes… that’s the race,” he said.

“If I didn’t have my F1 results (including nine Grand Prix wins), it might be a bit different.

“But I’m comfortable with what I did with Porsche, and part of me has won Le Mans, because I helped developed the car [that won there the past two times, this year after the leading Toyota TS050 Hybrid faltered with barely a lap to go].”

Jani, Dumas and Lieb have 140 points this season, to the 117 of Toyota’s Kamui Kobayashi (Japan), Stephane Sarrazin (France) and Mike Conway (Britain) – winners at Fuji in Japan three weeks ago – and 111.5 of Audi’s Lucas Di Grassi (Brazil), Loic Duval (France) and Oliver Jarvis (Britain).

Webber, Hartley and German Timo Bernhard are fourth on 93.5 points. The other Porsche trio will be champions on Sunday if they emerge from the Shanghai race 26 points in front of either their Toyota or Audi challengers.

More likely is that Porsche will be the champion manufacturer again on Sunday. It already has 263 points to the 204 of Volkswagen group stablemate Audi, which is withdrawing from sports car racing at the end of this season (as VW is from the World Rally Championship). Toyota is a distant third on 174 points.

Porsche, with wins in five of the seven rounds so far, will have the title again if it is at least 44 ahead of Audi after Shanghai.

While everything points to manufacturer and driver championships for Porsche again, if not in China then in Bahrain, the three makes of hybrid prototypes have been represented on the podium, separated by less than 30 seconds after six hours of racing, at the past rounds in Texas and Japan.