Australia's new Formula One driver, Mark Webber interview Part 3 of 3 Q. - Now that you are finally in there, have you had any more responses from Australian sponsors, which has always been a saga? Webber - Not really, no. In terms of Mark ...
Australia's new Formula One driver, Mark Webber interview
Part 3 of 3
Q. - Now that you are finally in there, have you had any more responses from Australian sponsors, which has always been a saga?
Webber - Not really, no. In terms of Mark Webber, I'm very happy with what I've got at the moment. I have Foster's and Telstra, and I cannot do any more than that. It's obviously up to the team now to try and go about having partners involved with the whole team, and I'm extremely happy with what I've got, both very successful companies in Australia, so it's good to be with them. So I'm more than happy and don't really need any more, to be honest.
Q. - Mark, apart from the money supporters, what about the public and people back here, what kind of reaction have you found? Have there been people coming out of the woodwork and whatnot to pat you on the back?
Webber - Yeah, it's been staggering, absolutely staggering. When you look on it, 20 or 30 emails an hour, phone calls, text messages, phone, you know, it's just been - I've had a huge response from people from every corner of Australia - Perth, Tassie, just everywhere. Yeah, it's gone down well. People are happy that we've pulled it off and there's a lot of them coming to the race, so it's exciting times.
Q. - So any special preparations for the kind of reception that you could expect to get here during Grand Prix week?
Webber - I don't know yet.
Q. - Are you going to need a minder or a chauffeur? What kind of things will you need to be doing to be able to balance the kind of demands that will be on you and your time, against obviously having to do a job of driving a Formula One car?
Webber - I've got a pretty good mate; he'll look after me if I get in any trouble. He'll look after me, and he would mess a few people's hair up if they got hold of me. No, I think I'll look after myself and just go about it as usual. Obviously I'll be pretty busy. I might have a car here and there to shoot me around different places, but we'll keep it - I won't use the word low-key, because we know it won't be, but I'll be racing around like a maniac, we know that - but once I'm in the F1 paddock, then I'm away from probably some of the carnage which will be out there. But I'm looking forward to it in to some ways as well, so it will be good.
Q. - It's a long way from Melbourne in March to Suzuka (Japanese GP) in October. Which circuits around the world circuit are you looking forward to the most?
Webber - Melbourne is definitely up there, mate; looking forward to that. Looking forward to Malaysia as well, because I always like to go to new circuits, because I haven't gone to Malaysia and Montreal, Indianapolis. (Also looking forward to) Spa (in Belgium), Silverstone (in Britain), which will be my "second home" Grand Prix really, because I have a lot of friends over here. Yeah, that's probably it. There's a few crackers - Monza (in Italy) would be great in a Formula One car, very, very quick, 350kmh will be good stuff. Yeah, there's a couple of good ones.
Q. - Do you think the fact that there isn't any testing at Albert Park, because it's a street circuit, in some ways gives you a more level playing field to start off?
Webber - Yeah, maybe for the first 15 minutes, and then things change pretty quickly. I think now the data these guys have got, the simulations that they can do, they probably know more about Melbourne than the old council boys down there do in terms of every blade of grass, and they know the track inside out. They've got all the information they need and we've got, of course, a lot of information as well. It's something the teams get a grip of very quickly, a new circuit.
Q. - What is your plan for Friday morning (first official practice)? Will you be the first one lined up out of that pit lane to shoot on to the track?
Webber - Well, the track is obviously going to be very "green", so it will be very, very slippery initially. But we haven't really even spoken about what the plan is on Friday. Obviously it would be nice to get as many laps in as possible. Everyone likes to obviously get out fairly soon in terms of installation and obviously the cars have been put together from a long flight, so it's good to get out early and check the cars. So I'll be going out into pit lane pretty early, but whether I will be the first one I'm not sure.
Q. - What about the feeling, that excitement, that Melbourne is going to generate for you?
Webber - No question, leaving the pit lane is going to be special. Every day, I think, because we're going to have - Friday is special because it's the first day the F1s run. Saturday is the first weekend day, and then Sunday is something special again. So every day will be great, and can't wait to feel what it's going to feel like. It's going to be great.
Q. - Mark, would you concede that, to get that elusive point this year, everything will have to go right for you, at the right track, wet weather maybe, usual attrition at the front?
Webber - No question, yeah. We need luck; you wouldn't be able to believe how much luck we will need to get that point. Or it might come easier than expected. Formula One is "if" spelt backwards, so you never know what's going to happen. Hopefully we can get a point somewhere along the line. There's absolutely no question, you're right, it's going to take some luck, but you have to be in it to win it. So hopefully we can get some points.
Q. - There has been some talk since you have been elevated to a full Formula One driver about your early karting days in Canberra. Just how important is that early grounding in karting?
Webber - It's very important, I think, because at a young age you learn how to deal with the ups and downs of it, because you have a lot of crashing and burning, as well as winning races, and it's good to feel that competitive edge at a young age as well and the little bit of psychology that goes on at a young age. It's good to feel that, and also the wheel-to-wheel racing of go-karting. It's, very, very close. You look at all the guys on a grid, and they've all driven karts. It's a very, very simple method, but it's a very, very successful one for drivers to feel their way into motor sport.
Q. - With (fellow Australians) Ryan Briscoe and James Courtney both following pretty quickly in your footsteps now, is there sort of a competition between you guys to see who's going to get the biggest and best gig first? They have obviously got backing from Toyota and Jaguar.
Webber - Not really. I think if James drove for Ferrari in Melbourne, that would be, for sure, phenomenal for him. But I'm concentrating on myself, obviously, at the moment and they're doing their stuff. Hopefully what's happened is going to help them a little bit in terms of the awareness of Formula One in Australia, which has always been great, but it might have gone up a little bit. Yeah, I mean, there's no real competition as such as these guys come up to Formula One.
Q. - Do you feel like a bit of a pioneer for them, then, sort of breaking the ice for the Aussies?
Webber - Probably not in terms of Formula One, but in terms of the junior stuff, yeah. I think particularly with James, I believe it did help a little bit with his works drive at Van Diemen (in the British Formula Ford Championship in the late 1990s) and little things like that, which hopefully broke the ice. I'm not saying - we've had guys, Russell Ingall, Larry Perkins, we've had loads of guys (do well) on this side of world, not to mention AJ (Alan Jones, Australia's 1980 world champion) and all those guys. So there's been loads of guys try it and they know that it's quite a tough thing. So hopefully we can have a few more Aussies on the grid with us, which would be a good thing.
Q. - Have you got a feel yet for where (new Formula One entrant) Toyota will be?
Webber - Toyota, I raced them at Le Mans (in sports cars), and you can never underestimate them, let me tell you, because they're very - they're a bit like Williams (F1 team), they love to downplay everything and then they come out and go bang. In testing, again, it's very hard to say if they're running on weight (above the minimum weight). I think they will be running on weight because they are a professional company. I will not be surprised to see them maybe around us (Minardi) and I will not be surprised to see them in the top 10, because I know what they can do. So until we get to Melbourne, no one can guess where they are going to be, and even they don't know where they are going to be probably.
Q. - You haven't had much experience being a backmarker in your career. Have you given much thought to the idea of having eyes in the back of your head for when the red and silver cars (Ferraris and McLarens) come racing past?
Webber - It's a cracker of a question because the other day I was talking about strategy at Minardi, and they said, "Mark, you've got to realise that we actually sometimes set our strategy up, we have to check out when the cars are going to come and lap us," and I'm like, "Bloody hell, how am I going to get my head around that?". You're right. Normally I'm used to being on the first two or three rows, or the first, and to be starting down there is going to be different. There's also technique in itself to not lose too much time when you're getting lapped. But obviously you have to co-operate because you can wreck the big boys' races, but you're obviously trying to do your own race as well. So it will be interesting.
Q. - Twelve months ago you perhaps could have had a Minardi drive, and that's water under the bridge, but at least you would have had some idea of what shape the team was in then compared to now. What is the comparison, because it would seem that certainly this time last year they didn't have the luxury of having done a couple of weeks' testing? They did about 40km of testing before they packed up their cars to come to Melbourne. Are they genuinely in good shape and going ahead?
Webber - In terms of 12 months down the road, no question. They're in much, much better shape. But all the guys (in the Minardi team) are probably more shattered than they have been ever been because they've been working very, very hard. Like you said, last year was very much a last-minute thing for Paul (Stoddart) and for the whole thing. It was all put together impossibly late to get to Melbourne. But they did, and they didn't even have a T-car down there. So this year we have a spare car. We have a few luxuries which they didn't have last year. So there's no question that they're in a more comfortable position, let's say, than the year before, and that's due to Paul's forward planning and getting some people to plan to be in good shape, and that's what's happened, as best we can.
Q. - You have obviously driven for quite a number of teams now, in different categories. You mentioned that Minardi has a very Italian feel to it, even though it's now owned by an Australian, has Malaysian sponsorship and whatnot, but what is that feel like in the team and that Italian feel? Is that a good feel?
Webber - Yeah, they're very emotional little guys, they're little Trojans, you know, they work very hard. After I do a run, I come in and they pat me on the helmet and pat me shoulder and say, "Well done," in their broken English, and I'm learning a bit of Italian. So, you know, it's a really good feeling. It's definitely the underdog feel, the battle of David and Goliath trying to get to the front. So it's tough for us, but a good little atmosphere.
Q. - Are you getting much sleep these days?
Webber - It's not too bad in testing. You sort of finish at 9, 9.30 at night and you're at the track at sort of 7.30 the next morning. So that's not too bad, compared to the mechanics, who have been known to put in a few 5 o'clock mornings and then be back at the track at 7. That's not too pretty. So drivers have it pretty easy on the sleep front.
Q. - What kind of attention is there at those tests in Spain at Valencia and Barcelona? Can spectators get in there, or even just coming and going to the track, what kind of attention is there on the drivers compared to race weekends?
Webber - It's very, very, very low-key, the testing. You've just got a lot of photographers, obviously, wanting to get photos of new drivers, new team livery or new cars. So it's mainly a lot of photographers. Yeah, you have a certain amount of people racing around getting autographs and things, but it's nothing like a race weekend.
Q. - It's only about two weeks between each race. What do you do, or how many days off do you get between races? What do you do in your spare time?
Webber - Obviously, the first three races are fly-aways (outside Europe). After Australia, we're off to Malaysia, then I'll come back here (England) and go to Brazil, and then we come back to Europe. It's more a routine, if you like, of being based in Europe in between the Grand Prix. In our race on a Sunday, obviously we have that week, maybe a bit of testing or team commitments, there's definitely stuff that pops up all the time, and then probably the weekend off. Then on the Tuesday, we'll go to the next race for the following weekend. So October will come around pretty quick.
Geoffrey Harris If there aren't any more questions, thank-you Mark Webber for joining us. It was terrific that you've been able to make the time available. The number of journalists in the hook-up today (14) is an indication of the amount of interest that there is in what's happening with your career. We certainly look forward to seeing you down here in nine days now, and obviously it's only two weeks until your first Formula One race at the Foster's Australian Grand Prix. We look forward to seeing you soon.