Mark Webber could possibly be forgiven for eager to pinch himself simply to make it possible for the previous yr hasn’t been a dream. This isn’t stunning actually, for a driver who, in his quest to develop into the primary Australian in over a decade to carry down an everyday place in System 1, has managed to draw the patronage of two very totally different sporting giants – the Aussie Rugby Union star David Campese and Mercedes sports activities chief Norbert Haug.
“Each morning once I get up I’m so completely satisfied,” admits 21-year-old Webber, who started 1997 struggling to lift the price range to graduate to the British System three Championship and ended it on the identical Mercedes junior programme that pushed Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jan Magnussen into F1.
“I bear in mind once I was karting footage of Schumacher, Frentzen and [Karl] Wendlinger [who formed Mercedes’s junior sportscar squad of the early ’90s], and considering ‘think about that’. And right here I’m now, being sorted by Mercedes.”
Webber is completely satisfied to confess that with out finance first from Campese after which Mercedes he would by no means have accomplished an F3 marketing campaign that noticed him end fourth within the British championship in addition to within the end-of-season Macau Grand Prix blue riband. “David [Campese] dug me out as soon as,” he says, “after which Mercedes dug me out once more in the midst of the season.
“After I received the System Ford Pageant on the finish of 1996, I wanted to construct a profile in Australia to attempt to assist with sponsorship to take me into British F3,” he explains. “I needed a hyperlink with David that I might dangle in entrance of sponsors. The reference to David is that we’re each from the identical place in New South Wales; the truth is, we had been born in the identical hospital in Queanbeyan. After we acquired involved, he mentioned that he was organising a sports activities advertising firm.”
Webber explains that, though Campese’s firm made a not insignificant contribution to his F3 price range, the coffers had been all however empty after 5 races within the Autosport-backed British F3 sequence. “I’d put my head on the block and brought lots of dangers to do F3, however our backs had been firmly in opposition to the wall regardless that we’d managed to get some good outcomes.
Webber grabbed consideration profitable the System Ford Pageant at Manufacturers Hatch in 1996
Photograph by: Andre Vor / Sutton Photos
“Then I had the perfect telephone name a younger driver can ever obtain: it was Norbert Haug to say he needed me to do a check within the CLK-GTR,” says Webber, he had launched himself to the Three-Pointed Star’s sports activities boss on the Australian Grand Prix initially of the yr. “Mercedes actually did save my F3 season. They usually did that after seeing me drive for less than 40 laps. They usually had been within the moist.”
Haug seems to have been impressed not solely by Webber’s success in System Ford after which F3 however by the truth that he made his “personal method with out numerous sponsorship”. The Australian has all of the “fundamental elements” in line with his new boss. “If you happen to win the Pageant, that speaks for you,” claims Haug. “Mark can be very mature for his age, which I feel is kind of vital.”
Three exams on from his debut within the CLK-GTR, Webber is now wanting ahead to the beginning of the FIA GT Championship at Oschersleben close to Berlin in two weeks’ time. Speak of him becoming a member of Nick Heidfeld, one other Mercedes-backed teen, within the McLaren-run West Competitors System 3000 squad and even Bertram Schafer Racing within the German F3 Championship was pure “newspaper discuss”, he says.
“I’ve been employed to assist Mercedes defend its FIA titles from final yr, however I need to be difficult strongly to win races. So far as my profession is worried, Mercedes will reward if the driving force performs”
“I’m completely satisfied to be racing the CLK; it’s going to be a implausible expertise. If you happen to ask me if I’d want to be racing a GT or an F3 automobile, I’d say the GT due to the ability,” says Webber, in reference to the CLK-GTR’s seven-litre V12, which is believed to push out nicely in extra of 600bhp. “What’s vital is that these vehicles are nonetheless very fast. You might be braking very late and aerodynamics play an vital position.”
All good expertise for a driver with F1 aspirations, and even one seeking to observe one other Mercedes junior, Dario Franchitti, into the CART Championship Sequence. However Webber says he isn’t mapping out his future fairly but.
“I’m going to take every check and every race because it comes, and see how issues pan out. I’ve acquired loads to be taught in GT racing, akin to coping with site visitors. The races are going to be utterly totally different to the 20-lappers I’m used to from F3. But it surely’s all going to be good expertise for no matter I do afterwards, even when I find yourself doing GTs for 20 years.”
Later within the yr, Webber would begin within the polesitting Mercedes on the Le Mans 24 Hours however would retire after simply 19 laps
Photograph by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / Motorsport Images
Haug, too, received’t be drawn on what the Three-Pointed Star has in retailer for Webber. It’s value mentioning, although, that the Aussie is a full member of the manufacturing unit AMG squad, whereas the reigning F3000 Worldwide Champion Ricardo Zonta has to make do with a seat with Persson Motorsport, which is successfully Mercedes’s semi-works staff within the FIA sequence.
“There is no such thing as a plan,” says Haug, who has teamed Webber with fellow junior Marcel Tiemann. “That may be utterly incorrect. Mark is in an excellent staff and has the possibility to current himself in a great way. If he does that, then we must begin interested by the following step. I received’t say that Mark goes to finish up in F1, however there is likely to be an opportunity if he’s sturdy sufficient.”
Webber, nonetheless, makes no secret of his F1 aspirations. “I’m very aggressive and really hungry, so I might be upset if I don’t fulfil the ultimate dream. However alternatively I’ve had so many desires fulfilled already: coming to race in England; profitable the Pageant; after which doing F3.
“I’ve been employed to assist Mercedes defend its FIA titles from final yr, however I need to be difficult strongly to win races. So far as my profession is worried, Mercedes will reward if the driving force performs – and I’m up for the problem.”
Webber ended 1998 as runner-up for Mercedes within the FIA GT championship
Photograph by: Ralph Hardwick