An emotional Mark Webber brought the curtain down on his Formula 1 career in typical style in Brazil on Sunday with tributes ringing in his ears, even from teammate and bitter rival Seb Vettel.
In his 215th and final race in F1 before joining Porsche’s sportscar programme, the Aston Clinton racer joined his Red Bull team-mate Vettel on the podium with a runner-up finish ahead of close friend Fernando Alonso’s Ferrari.
On the parade lap after the final flag of a distinguished career, the Aussie broke all the rules in taking off his helmet and flameproof balaclava so he could see the crowd and take their acclaim.
Webber the person is one of the most respected in the sport. Brutally but refreshingly honest and relentlessly competitive, he was well-liked across the grid.
His career will perhaps always be remembered for that agonising moment in Korea in 2010 when he threw away the World Championship after crashing out in the wet while trying keep up – somewhat unnecessarily – with Vettel in tricky conditions.
Webber was a true F1 racer. His main attribute was taking corners at high speed and squeezing every drop out of his cars. But while he concedes he is getting out of the sport at the right time, departing hand-in-hand with the V8 engines, he admitted being ‘very emotional’.
“It was a good finish to my career,” he said.
“Formula 1 is a sport I’ve loved. I could never have dreamt of the career that I’ve had, the tremendous highs, the tough lows – you know they have to happen and you learn from adversity.
“I want to thank Seb, Fernando, Lewis (Hamilton) and Nico (Rosberg), all the guys who have been up there in the last five or six years.
“I enjoyed the last few laps in particular, so thanks to the team, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable career, one I’m very proud of.”
The most telling tribute after the race came from the perennial record breaker and world champ Vettel, who even went as far as to credit the Vale veteran with having a big hand in his own success.
“We didn’t have the best relationship, but nevertheless we always had respect for each other on a professional level and whatever was going on off-track, didn’t make a difference to us on track and we both pushed each other very hard,” Vettel said.
“I certainly learned a lot from Mark. I learned to become a better driver, due to his impressive skills. That’s why I consider him one of the best drivers on the grid.”
Vettel graciously allowed Webber to be interviewed first, rather than himself as is customary in being the winner.
Mark said: “It was nice to take the helmet off for the final lap. In this sport it’s not always possible to give things a personal touch. We have the helmets on all the time, so they fans don’t always see a Formula One driver in a car without a helmet. It was nice to get it off and see the marshals and the fans; it was just a really nice thing to experience. I heard a lot of noises that I don’t normally hear. The difficult part for me today was actually getting in to the car for the final time. I was overcome with some emotion then to be honest. That moment of the helmet going on and stepping into the car was actually the strongest emotion I’ve had all day. Then crossing the line and seeing all the guys was great. Christian radioed me and said enjoy the last lap, which I did. I did it as slow as I could; it was a very special day. Seb and I have had our challenges over time and it’s easier to have a relationship with Fernando, as he’s in another team, but to finish on the podium with those two guys – well, they have been the best of this generation. I have raced them a lot and to finish with those guys was nice for me because it meant a lot, showing that I can drive well at the end of my career and that I got the timing right. The biggest and strongest memories you have are from when you are in the car; it’s what we were tuned and trained to do. Driving on the limit is what I was paid to do and what I enjoyed doing. They are the strongest memories you have as an individual at this level.”
Meanwhile, Webber’s now former Red Bull team principal has hailed the Vale star as a ‘real racer’.
Christian Horner, who has at times had to play peacemaker between the Aussie and teammate Vettel, said the season finale was a fitting way for Webber to leave the sport.
“For Mark, it was fantastic that he finished his Formula 1 career on the podium with a really gutsy drive.
“His moves on Rosberg, Hamilton and twice on Alonso showed what a real racer he is and I’d like to take this opportunity to thank him for the invaluable contribution that he’s made to the team, to the four Constructors’ Championships that we have won together and for all his hard work and efforts throughout the last seven years.
“As he moves on to a new challenge we wish him the very, very best to him and his family for the future.”
Webber now has an extended break until he races for Porsche in the World Endurance Championships, which gets under way at Silverstone in April.