Webber will leave Red Bull, signs 5-year Porsche deal (11th update)


Will Webber sign for another year to be beaten by his faster teammate, Vettel, week-in-and-week-out?

This rumor, first reported on March 27th, is finally upgraded to 'fact.' Mark Webber is retiring from formula one at the end of the year in order to drive for Porsche's new Le Mans prototype program in 2014 and beyond.

The popular and outspoken 36-year-old Australian has driven for Red Bull since 2007, and has more than 200 grands prix under his belt, including nine wins.

"I'm very much looking forward to this new challenge," Webber said in a statement.

2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen is the favorite to replace Webber at Red Bull.

Webber described it as an "honor" to race for Porsche, adding: "Porsche has written racing history as a manufacturer and stands for outstanding performance and technology at the highest level.

"I'm very much looking forward to this new challenge after my time in Formula 1. I can hardly wait to pilot one of the fastest sports cars in the world."

In 12 years in F1, Webber has won nine grands prix, achieved 36 podium finishes, 11 pole positions and 15 fastest laps and twice finished third in the World Championship.

06/26/13 (GMM) Mark Webber has the support of Red Bull mogul Dietrich Mateschitz as he considers his future beyond a 2013 contract.

That is the claim of the German publication Auto Bild Motorsport, following Australian Webber's claim late last week that "the ball is pretty firmly in my court" regarding a deal for 2014.

Previously, it was believed Red Bull was considering replacing Webber – who turns 37 in August – with either Sebastian Vettel's friend and 2007 world champion Kimi Raikkonen, or a Toro Rosso driver.

Webber's seven-season run at the Milton-Keynes based team was said to be effectively over, having fallen out with teammate Vettel over the 'Multi-21' affair, and finally succumbing to the lack of support of the influential figure Dr Helmut Marko.

Webber, however, insisted last week that his relationship with billionaire Mateschitz remains strong.

"I'll continue to be in touch with him on where my thinking is at, where my energy levels are, and where my motivation is for still operating at this level," he said.

Citing Auto Bild's report, Die Welt newspaper now reports that Mateschitz has "personally presented the Australian with an offer to extend his contract".

The report added that Webber will consider the offer until August, when Red Bull's bosses Marko and Christian Horner have said consistently they will turn their attention to the team's 2014 driver lineup.

05/05/13 Mark Webber will walk away from Formula One at the end of this season. The Red Bull driver has told close friends this year will be his final campaign in grand prix racing.

And he is already making plans to leave Britain, where he has a £2million home in the Buckinghamshire village of Aston Clinton, to return home to Australia.

Webber, 36, is fifth in the Drivers’ Championship after four races this season.

He has had an unhappy working relationship with his teammate, and triple world champion, Sebastian Vettel.

The pair have hardly spoken since their problems at this year’s Malaysian Grand Prix, when Vettel ignored team orders to pass Webber, denying him a 10th career win.

But that hasn’t played a major part in Webber’s decision, as he simply feels it is time to call time on his 14 year F1 career.

He was little more than a rookie when he first came to Britain in 1995, having started off racing on two wheels in New South Wales before driving a go-kart in 1991.

Within two years he was labeled as one of Australia’s most promising drivers since 1980 world champ Alan Jones.

He became a big success in Formula Ford and Formula 3 before he had a miracle escape when his Mercedes somersaulted out of control in practice for the 1999 Le Mans 24 hour race.

The same thing happened in the warm-up on race day and those two crashes, along with a similar incident for teammate Peter Dumbreck, saw Mercedes pull out of the sport.

Webber who was unhurt in the crashes then started testing for the Arrows team.

The Aussie never lost his love of endurance racing and could be tempted to have another go at LeMans once he leaves F1. DailyStar

We are upgrading this rumor to 'strong' today as too much evidence now suggests Webber is going sports car racing. Porsche has denied reports it has agreed a five-year contract to move Mark Webber from formula one to its Le Mans prototype project from 2014.

"This is wrong," a spokesman told German newspaper Die Welt.

"Mark Webber has not signed a five year contract with Porsche," he said explicitly.

"Porsche has a squad of ten highly successful works drivers, forming an excellent basis for the occupation of the LMP1 cockpits from 2014."

He said finalizing the prototype lineup is "not urgent".

However, the paddock rumors – not only in F1's Shanghai paddock last week but also as the sports car championship raced at the same time at Silverstone – are strong.

Bild newspaper said Webber, 36, has already visited Porsche's Weissach factory and agreed a three-year term, even if his actual financial retainer is still to be finalized.

Amid the Webber rumors, a team figure of the similarly Volkswagen-owned Audi camp at Silverstone admitted that Porsche "could go in that direction".

And Derek Bell, a four-time Le Mans winner with Porsche in the 70s and 80s, told the Huffington Post at Silverstone: "I hear he (Webber) has gone."

04/15/13 (GMM) There is truth to reports Mark Webber is contemplating a switch from formula one to Le Mans-style racing with Porsche next year.

That is the claim on Monday of the major German newspaper Bild, who said negotiations between the famous Volkswagen-owned carmaker have already resulted in agreement about a three-year term.

Bild said Australian Webber, 36, has also already visited Porsche's motor sport centre in Weissach, Germany, where the marque is "working on a project at formula one level".

The newspaper said financial terms have not yet been agreed, but that the deal is being led by Porsche executive Wolfgang Hatz, and involving Webber's partner and manager Ann Neal.

Bild suggested the news about Porsche was leaked internationally by the Webber camp.

Red Bull is not commenting, but Bild said the main contenders for Webber's seat next year are Kimi Raikkonen and Daniel Ricciardo.

In China at the weekend, Australian Ricciardo had the best weekend of his career, whilst driving for the Red Bull junior team Toro Rosso.

04/15/13 Porsche has acted quickly to squelch a storm of rumors that circulated on Sunday suggesting that Red Bull's F1 driver Mark Webber had already signed a five-year deal to lead their rebooted World Endurance Championship project starting in 2014.

The rumors broke ahead of the WEC Six Hours At Silverstone event even as Mark Webber was at work in Shanghai racing in the 2013 F1 Grand Prix of China. The race ended badly for Webber, who crashed into another car early in the race and then had a wheel fall off on his out-lap after a pit stop went wrong.

Radio Le Man aired a report over the weekend that Webber had already signed off on the deal to move to Porsche and head up their new WEC LMP sportscar program for five years commencing in 2014, it had the ring of truth to it for many who felt that Webber now couldn't wait to turn his back on F1 and find a new challenge elsewhere.

However Wolfgang Hatz, the member of Porsche AG Board of Management in charge of research and development, said that this wasn't the case and that the rumors were wrong: "There is a test plan, and for sure Mark Webber is not part of them," he told AutoAction later on Sunday.

"We can have perhaps some F1 drivers in the future, but it is not necessary," he continued. "We will use some of our own drivers and add some external drivers – we have two cars and need six drivers next year.

"We still have plenty of time to decide our driver line up," he added. "What we need is the best combination of drivers that fit together. LMP1 is a team sport, and if you have three of the quickest drivers I am not sure that this is the best way."

04/15/13 (GMM) Mark Webber has signed a five-year deal to switch from formula one to Le Mans-style sports car racing from 2014.

That is the claim of Radio Le Mans, citing information from the paddock of Sunday's Chinese grand prix in Shanghai, where the 36-year-old Australian endured another nightmare race weekend.

China was just one race on from the 'Multi-21' team orders affair, and where rumors flourished that Kimi Raikkonen is being lined up to replace Webber at Red Bull next year.

Earlier this month, Germany's Bild newspaper reported that Webber and Porsche had been in contact about a deal for 2014, when the famous sports car maker intends to race a Le Mans-style LMP1 prototype.

A Porsche spokesman had not denied the Webber rumors, saying only that "Whether and to what extent additional drivers are added (to the existing roster) will be decided at a later date".

But AAP news agency quoted a Porsche spokesman on Monday: "There is a test plan (for Le Mans) and for sure Mark Webber is not part of them.

"We can have perhaps some formula one drivers in the future but it is not necessary."

The latest reports follow wild rumors that Webber's nightmare weekend in China, including fuel woes in qualifying and a wheel falling off during the race, is a Red Bull conspiracy to reinforce his de-facto 'number 2' status.

"He (Webber) has no confidence in his employer," wrote correspondent Simon Pausch in Die Welt newspaper. "And who can really blame him?"

But team boss Christian Horner dismissed the conspiracy claims as "complete rubbish".

Dr Helmut Marko added: "We don't put a car together for millions of euros only to deliberate sabotage it."

Even Mercedes' Niki Lauda had to agree: "No sane person could intentionally put a wheel nut on wrong.

"The cars do 320kph here and if one flies off, it is literally life or death."

Horner backed Webber – who has pledged to at least see out his 2013 contract – to bounce back.

"He'll be fine. He's a tough competitor," he said.

04/03/13 (GMM) Porsche has refused to deny rumors it is lining up Mark Webber to lead its charge with a new Le Mans prototype next year.

Amid the 'Multi-21' affair and claims the Australian's place is now untenable alongside Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull, German newspaper Bild reported that the 36-year-old and Porsche have "already been in contact" regarding a 2014 deal.

Asked about the Webber rumors, a spokesman for the carmaker told SID news agency: "Porsche already has a squad of internationally successful works drivers.

"This is a very good basis for the assignment of the corresponding (Le Mans) cockpits.

"Whether and to what extent additional drivers are added will be decided at a later date," spokesman Oliver Hilger added.

04/02/13 This rumor is upgraded to 'strong' today. Australian F1 driver Mark Webber "will reportedly leave Red Bull and join for Porsche in '14," according to Frank Schneider of BILD. Sources told Bild that Webber "is on the list of the Stuttgart-based company to drive a new prototype for its factory team" at the 24 Hours of Le Mans race and in eight World Endurance Championship races. Webber is reportedly already in contact with Porsche and has stated his interest in the project. Meanwhile, Red Bull Owner Dietrich Mateschitz "has mentioned Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen as a possible replacement for Webber." BILD

03/27/13 The AAP reported it could be Webber's F1 "swan song based on his stated position he will not move down the grid purely to stay in F1." Briatore said that "the team's chances of winning a fourth title could be doomed following the Malaysian Grand Prix controversy." He said, "They are two professionals, they will win races and so on, but it's unthinkable that Mark may help Vettel in the future and I don't think Vettel will help Mark. So we'll have two enemies inside a single team, and this will (probably) advantage Ferrari." Briatore also accused Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner of being "weak" for refusing to sanction Vettel. He said, "Their car is very competitive so drivers want to stay there, but (Sepang) was proof that no one is in charge at Red Bull." AAP

03/27/13 (GMM) Red Bull on Wednesday denied reports Mark Webber will surely leave Red Bull at the end of the season.

Major German daily Bild had reported it has learned the 36-year-old Australian will depart at the end of his 2013 contract.

A similar claim was made by Webber's manager Flavio Briatore, who said he is now sure either Webber or Sebastian Vettel will split with the team as a result of the Malaysia team orders saga.

But Red Bull told the BBC on Wednesday that the claims are "pure speculation."

"We are two races into the current season and it's far too early to be talking about 2014," the team said in a statement.

Red Bull said the Vettel/Webber pairing had been highly successful, but also survived periods of "intense rivalry", including their collision in Turkey 2010 and occasion that have seen both drivers "ignoring team orders at different times".

"The team has managed the situation each time in its own way behind closed doors," said the team.

03/27/13 (GMM) Mark Webber will leave Red Bull at the end of 2013, major German newspaper Bild is reporting.

"Bild has learned: Webber will not get a new contract at Red Bull," the article reads.

But after the Australian driver hinted he might quit the team or F1 in the wake of the team orders saga in Malaysia, Webber's father Alan and partner/manager Ann Neal have confirmed the 36-year-old will be back at the wheel in China next month.

"There is no question whatsoever about Mark not continuing this season," Neal told the Telegraph.

Beyond 2013, however, Webber's future is much less clear.

Central to Webber's management throughout his career, Flavio Briatore thinks the driver's relationship with teammate Sebastian Vettel is now terminally broken.

Asked if one of them will leave Red Bull at the end of the season, the Italian told Rai radio: "For sure. I don't think it can be fixed now."

British journalist Bob Mackenzie agrees: "(Red Bull's) next decision will be who will replace the Australian."

Indeed, while Webber is this week surfing in his native Australia, Vettel on Tuesday was at work in the Red Bull simulator at Milton-Keynes.

McLaren's Jenson Button – now the most experienced F1 driver on the grid – agrees that the impact of the Sepang saga for Red Bull is "big".

"Even if they sit down and discuss it, it is not going to change the outcome," he is quoted by British newspapers. "What has happened is still in their minds. It does not go away."

Spain's El Mundo newspaper adds: "Vettel and Webber have never got along, but now a wide gap has opened up between them."

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