Webber to leave F1 after 2013 season for Porsche’s sportscar team

Red Bull driver Mark Webber has announced that he will leave Formula 1 at the end of the season. The 36-year-old Australian is joining Porsche’s new sportscar programme and will compete in the classic 24 Hours of Le Mans race for the German manufacturer.

Webber was first linked to Porsche earlier this season. He drove in sportscars with Mercedes in 1998-99, participating in the 24 Hours of Le Mans both years, before returning to single-seaters in Formula 3000 and joining F1 with Minardi in 2002. After spells at Jaguar and Williams, he joined Red Bull in 2008. He won a race for the first time with Red Bull and became a genuine title contender with the team, but was unable to match team-mate Vettel’s success. He had a turbulent relationship with the German, exemplified by Vettel’s famous disregard of team orders at this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix. Webber had the option of staying with Red Bull for another season, and as also offered a seat from another big team, but, with a big change in regulations next year that will dramatically alter the demands of F1, he has decided to seek a fresh challenge. He has also been critical of the Pirelli tyres that F1 teams have been forced to use since 2011, claiming their rapidly degrading nature prevents drivers pushing to the limit throughout a race.

It’s an honour for me to join Porsche at its return to the top category in Le Mans and in the sports car World Endurance Championship and be part of the team. Porsche has written racing history as a manufacturer and stands for outstanding technology and performance at the highest level. I’m very much looking forward to this new challenge after my time in Formula 1. Porsche will undoubtedly set itself very high goals. I can hardly wait to pilot one of the fastest sportscars in the world.
– Mark Webber

Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Timo Bernhard are the other drivers who have already signed for Porsche’s LMP1 programme. This will be Porsche’s first assault on outright Le Mans 24 Hours honours since its 1998 triumph.

I’m very pleased to have secured Mark Webber for our LMP1 project as one of the best and most successful Formula 1 pilots of our time. Mark is without doubt one of the world’s best race drivers, he has experience at the Le Mans 24 hour race and on top of that he’s been a Porsche enthusiast for many years.
– Wolfgang Hatz, Porsche’s board member for research and development

The Australian’s decision leaves the second Red Bull seat alongside world champion Sebastian Vettel available for 2014, with Kimi Raikkonen already strongly linked to the drive. Toro Rosso’s Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are also options, with many fans hoping for Force India’s Paul di Resta getting a shot as well.

In 12 years in Formula 1, Webber won 9 grands prix, achieved 36 podium finishes, 11 pole positions, 15 fastest laps and twice finished third in the World Championship. His best season was 2010, when he led the championship for much of the year before faltering in the final three races, falling behind team-mate Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.

[Image Source: Porsche via Facebook]

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