Mark Webber will leave champions Red Bull and Formula One at the end of the season to join Porsches new Le Mans sportscar programme,the Australian driver announced on Thursday. Im very much looking forward to this new challenge after my time in Formula One. I can hardly wait to pilot one of the fastest sports cars in the world, he said on his website.
Porsche said he had signed a multi-year contract. Red Bull said a decision on his replacement would not be made until later in the season. The oldest driver on the starting grid,who will be 38 next year and is in his 12th season,Webber has yet to win a race in 2013 but has a good chance to rectify that at weekends British Grand Prix.
The straight-talking Australian who drives a Porsche for private use has won two of the last three races at Silverstone,including last years,and has finished on the podium at what amounts to a home race every year since 2009. He has won nine grands prix,all for Red Bull,since his debut with Minardi in 2002 but has been eclipsed in the championship by German team mate Sebastian Vettel who is chasing a fourth successive title. Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen,the 2007 world champion with Ferrari,has been strongly tipped to take Webbers place.
That move would replace one of the most outspoken drivers with the most taciturn and,at 33,second oldest after Webber. Webber has renewed his Red Bull contract on a year-by-year basis for some time and his decision to call it a day came as no surprise. Speculation that this would be his last season moved up a notch or two after the Malaysian Grand Prix,when Vettel disregarded team orders to stay behind Webber and finish in one-two formation.
Webber has long complained that Vettel,still only 25,is the teams favourite and that position will only be enhanced for the remaining 12 races now that he has decided to leave. The Australian had hoped to become his countrys first champion since Alan Jones in 1980 but the closest he came was 2010 when he went into the final race in Abu Dhabi second overall and eight points behind Ferraris Fernando Alonso. Vettel,who had been a further seven points adrift of Webber and had not led the championship all year,won that race and snatched his first title as the strategy unravelled in nightmare fashion for the Australian and Alonso.