Ticket in hand, I arrived 10 minutes early to see several hundred people already there. All ages, some in Red Bull and even Porsche clothing. After some refreshments, it was time.
Mark arrived and took the stage with ARDC President, Andrew Leithhead who was hosting the evening. Mark's initial comments were around his happiness with the book sales (second print run already) and also about being in Australia during the winter, which was unusual for him.
Andrew's questions covered lots of areas and I'll try to provide a summary of what Mark said.
Leaving Australia, climbing the ladder, David Campese loan
Mark described his difficulties in securing money and motor racing opportunities in Europe. He told the story of getting funding from Yellow Pages. This was despite one of the decision-makers not liking him or wanting to do it. That particular person is now friends with Mark and receives constant friendly reminders that he nearly derailed Webber's career early on! Also David Campese, the rugby legend who funded Mark at a critical time. That loan was offered interest free and was of course paid back as soon as Mark could.
Mercedes Le Mans accident
Another time when Mark's career could have ended. He described how himself and Peter Dumbreck could have easily been killed. Not to mention the marshals and spectators. Webber was very upset with the team who initially blamed him. The cause of the flip? A "crap engine" low on horsepower which forced the team to strip too much weight in the search for pace.
Minardi F1- 5th on debut
A very special day of course, Mark said it almost felt like a race win. He described the battle he had with Mika Salo and his determination to finish the race despite gearbox issues. He joked about race winner Schumacher congratulating him which provided a photo opportunity for Michael to ensure he got in the newspaper the next day.
Webber told of his love of the circuit itself and the crazy and different nature of that particular race. He also talked about the concentration and fitness required to do well there. The walls get narrower as the race progresses.
It was noted by Andrew Leithhead that Webber has a resting heart rate of 40 bpm. Mark talked about his dedication to fitness and nutrition and the implications on his personal life. He joked about being out with friends with him having small meals and early nights.
Red Bull success, Vettel
For this part I was recording video, so what follows are actual quotes:
"We had an incredible amount of success quite fast. You obviously start at the back end of 2009 and then in 2010 we were both going for the championship. That was quite hard for the team to... first of all we didn't predict it and couldn't believe we had both of us going for the championship. We had Fernando and Lewis still in the game so it was a very, very hotly contested World Championship - the 4 of us going for it".
"What I found difficult honestly inside the team was not so much Sebastian; Sebastian was doing his job, working hard, he was young, of course incredibly fast, incredibly, incredibly sharp, probably "Schumacher-esque" in his approach to the job in terms of how technical he was."
"But I obviously struggled with Helmut (Marko) a lot, I really struggled to work out Helmut's role in the team and how much he actually brought Sebastian along. They spent a huge amount of money to get into this position. And this could be our only chance to win the championship, there is no guarantees that other championships are going to come in the future. So we've got to make sure that in 2010, you know, he's going to be the youngest World Champion ..."
"There's a few things which, I just thought, I had a little bit of a headwind here and there where I probably didn't need it. And even when I had the momentum and was leading the championship, they were still trying to keep Seb in the game. Which again was not a huge reflection on Sebastian, it was just that I thought they were prepared to risk a lot to keep Seb in the game, then to also keep the other two in there as well; Lewis and Fernando".
Relationship with Ann Neal
Mark referenced Ann throughout the evening and again here. He describes her as being as much responsible for his success and he himself is. It's clear she is a driving force and positive influence both personally and professionally.
Last question; Would you ever compromise your integrity to win? Mark replied he was never confronted with that dilemma in his career but feels he would not. He is proud that his trophy cabinet is clean in terms of himself and the cars he drove.
Questions from the floor:
What's in the garage at home? All Porsche's - great cars, just point and shoot.
Why didn't you sign the Ferrari contract? This was my question! Mark talked about wanting a 2 year deal rather than 1+1. This meant he would be changing F1 teams toward the end of his career and 6 months down the track, he may not be offered his "+1 option". Not wanting this, he decided to re-sign with Red Bull.
Williams? Mark admitted that he was the one to begin calling Nico Rosberg "Britney". He also told a funny story about their last race together at Williams. Rosberg crashed into Webber - Mark's rear wing was badly broken and Nico had front wing damage. Webber was livid, behind Nico and expected to pit second. But he was determined to pit first and overtake Rosberg. After some eventful driving Mark arrived at the Williams garage first, much to Patrick Head's displeasure.
Alonso overtake at Spa Mark explained the need for total commitment and trust in the man you are racing. Much praise here for Fernando. Mark had the best line at the bottom of Eau Rouge which setup the pass.
Favourite track? Suzuka. Largely unchanged, challenging and enjoyable; it's got everything. He singled out "Degner" as a particularly good corner.
Favourite era? 1990's.
Will you return to Australia and race? Very unlikely. Enjoying his motorsport overseas and once the helmet is hung up there, then that is probably it. Never say never though. Mark commented he gets lot's of calls and offers!
What about those poor starts in F1? Webber talked about his difficulty with the Pirelli tyres in terms of recovering any wheelspin off the line. The loss was usually around one metre which equated to one grid row. Mark said he saw plenty of data comparing drivers starts and reaction times. This showed the Red Bull was never great off the line.
How are you enjoying the Porsche? Very much! It's a very technical and quick car to drive. It was here that Mark congratulated Nico Hulkenberg on his Le Mans victory. Apparently he joked with Nico on the podium; "Do you still know how to use the champagne mate?".
After question time was the book signing. With my copy of "Aussie Grit" signed and photos taken, it was time to go. A fantastic evening, very insightful and enjoyable!
Thanks for reading.
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