How Mercedes’ Support of Mark Webber Transformed Him Into an Aussie Shooting Star

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Mark Webber has had an amazing year! He’s now the first Australian in over 10 years to race in Formula 1, and he’s even been supported by two very famous people – David Campese from the Aussie Rugby Union and Norbert Haug from Mercedes. It’s no wonder Mark is feeling super lucky!

Webber, who is 21-years-old admitted that every morning when he wake up, he was really happy. This is because in 1997, Webber managed to get enough money to move from the British Formula 3 Championship to a Mercedes junior programme. This same program also allowed Michael Schumacher, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Jan Magnussen to join Formula 1’s racing world.

When I was racing go-karts, I used to look at pictures of the famous drivers like Michael Schumacher, Heinz Harald Frentzen and Karl Wendlinger. These three were part of Mercedes’ junior sportscar team back in the early 90s. Then I thought to myself – ‘imagine that!’. Now, here I am now, and Mercedes is taking care of me.

Webber is thankful that without money from Campese and Mercedes he never would have been able to compete in the F3 championship. He ended up finishing fourth in both the British tournament, and at Macau Grand Prix. David Campese provided him with financial support once, then again Mercedes swooped in midseason and helped him out.

After I won an important race in 1996, I needed to make a name for myself in Australia so people would support and sponsor me with my dream of competing in the British Formula 3 racing series. Luckily, I realized that I had a connection with another racer from the same area in New South Wales–we were both born at the same hospital! When we reconnected, he told me he had started up a company that helps other racers like us.

Webber explains that his budget for the British F3 series had almost run out after racing five times, even though a company had put in some funds. He had taken lots of risks to be able to do F3, but he was in a tight spot. Webber also grabbed attention by winning a race called the Formula Ford Festival at Brands Hatch in 1996.

I was happily surprised when I got the best phone call of a young driver’s life: Norbert Haug calling me to do a test drive in a CLK-GTR. This happened because at the Australian Grand Prix earlier this year, I had introduced myself to Mercedes sports boss. Even though they had only seen me drive for 40 laps, and those were all in wet conditions, they still saved my Formula 3 season!

Haug was really impressed by the fact that Webber achieved success in Formula Ford and F3 without having a lot of sponsored help. According to Haug, Webber has everything he needs plus he is very mature for his age. He believes that if you win the Festival, it shows how talented you are.

Three races after making his first appearance in the CLK-GTR, Webber is now getting ready for the FIA GT Championship that will start at Oschersleben near Berlin in two weeks. Webber said speculation of him joining Nick Heidfeld from Mercedes team and McLaren West Competition Formula 3000 or even Bertram Schafer Racing in German F3 Championship was simply just made up stories.

“I got a job to help Mercedes win the races it won last year again, but I also want to try my best and do even better this time so that I can win the races all on my own. If I do a good job for Mercedes, they’ll reward me for my hard work.”

Mark Webber is excited to race the CLK. He says he would rather drive a GT car because they have more power. The CLK-GTR has a V12 engine with more than 600 horsepower, so it’s still plenty fast. Plus, racing this car means you need to be extra careful when braking and aerodynamics are very important too.

Driving and racing cars would be a great experience if you want to become an F1 driver, or even one of the Mercedes juniors like Dario Franchitti in CART Championship Series. But Webber says he isn’t planning his future right now.

I’m going to do my best in each test and race that I have this year. I still have a lot to figure out, like how to move around the other cars on the track; these races will be different from the short 20-lap ones I used to do in F3. Doing all of these events is great practice for whatever comes next in my career – even if it’s more GT racing for the next 20 years!

Later on, I started at Le Mans 24 Hours with Mercedes but had to quit after just 19 laps.

Picture by: Rainer W. Schlegelmilch / F1Flow Images

It’s not known yet what the Three Pointed Star (Mercedes) has planned for Webber. But it really stands out that Webber is part of their factory AMG team while Ricardo Zonta, the champion of F3000 International Series, has to be happy with a seat at Persson F1Flow which is almost like Mercedes’ semi-works team in FIA series.

Haug, who has put junior driver Mark Webber in a duo with Marcel Tiemann, said that for now there is no plan for their future. It all depends on how good Mark can present himself and if he proves to be strong enough, then they will think about the next step which might even be Formula 1.

Webber really wants to compete in Formula One Racing. He’s super determined and can’t wait to start racing. He’s already achieved some of his goals, like starting races in England, winning the Festival Race and competing in Formula Three.

I got a job to help Mercedes protect their titles from last year, but my goal is to win races. If I do well, Mercedes will reward me and that’s why I’m excited for this challenge. At the end of 1998, I was close to winning the FIA GT championship for Mercedes.

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