Mark Webber first learned car control in a pick-up truck, sliding around a field in his native Queanbeyan, Australia. Then he moved to England, bought a B-reg Ford Fiesta, and within six years was a Formula One driver. Having made 215 grand prix starts, winning nine of them, he quit Red Bull Racing in 2013 to join Porsche’s assault on the World Endurance Championship, in which he was triumphant last year.
At both Le Mans and in F1 he has escaped a couple of the most spectacular airborne car accidents ever recorded on camera, but his first smash was the result of being distracted by friends while chomping on a Big Mac.
Alongside racing Porsches, and polishing the road-going ones in his garage, Mark is a pundit for Channel 4’s F1 coverage this season.
What was your first car?
My first car was a 1969 Toyota Corona ‘Toyoglide’ and it was the colour of snot. I bought it off my elder sister’s best friend for £270. Two-speed automatic, bench seats and no seatbelts. It was bomb proof. Once I got in an argument at school and the guys set fire to the car. Didn’t look too pretty afterwards but ran as well as ever. We also kept a spare tyre in the back, which we called Angelina, and she would make the occasional appearance when we decided to roll her down hills.
How old were you when you started getting interested in cars?
Before I could reach the pedals. My granddad had a farm where I spent my weekends jumping between motorbikes, cars and agricultural machinery. The first time I sat on my dad’s lap and held a steering wheel was a huge moment. I learnt car control quite early as I’d take my granddad’s ute [pick-up truck] into the fields, and those things are really tail-happy.
What was your first crash – if you’ve ever had one?
I upgraded from the Corona to a Holden Commodore station wagon when I was 18, and drove out of a McDonald’s one day with the car loaded with mates. I was distracted by the banter and just ran up the back of someone. The damage wasn’t bad, but I recall the car I hit was pretty expensive.
Which car do you own now?
I have a company car from Porsche, a 911 Turbo S. I’m mad about Porsches, so to get to race for their works team is a dream come true. In Formula One I was always under pressure to be seen driving whatever road car was promoted by the team I raced for, but from 2009 onwards I had a ‘secret’ Porsche parked on my driveway.
I own a bunch of classics, including a blue 1954 356 Cabriolet. It’s so dinky and intimate, you sit so close to your passenger and there’s no power steering. Sixty miles-per-hour feels like 120. At the other end of the scale I have a 918 Spyder, which is the most advanced Porsche ever built and an absolute beast to drive. So I have bookended the Porsche range quite nicely I think.
Which car do you most regret selling?
The Corona, for the memories. Everything between that and my Porsches did nothing for me, really.
What’s the dream car, money no object?
Jim Clark’s Lotus 49. Or one of Jack Brabham’s cars. Grand Prix cars from that era [the 1960s] were absolutely gorgeous, with no wings and little cockpits. So raw and so perfect, one of these days I will have a weak moment and buy one and race it. I’ve been really lucky to drive Jackie Stewart’s Matra at Goodwood on track with Jackie in his ’73 championship-winning Tyrrell, and that was one of the highlights of my life. The downside of that era of car is that I’m just a bit too tall. I wish I was a bit shorter two days a year when I get to drive those cars.
What’s your biggest pet peeve when you’re driving?
People either not giving way or waiting too long at roundabouts. Just get on the bloody thing.
What’s your most memorable experience in a car?
Well, the bench seat in the Corona was good! Ann [my partner] and I were in the Colorado mountains a couple of years ago where I’d been doing a photoshoot with Porsche in a 918, and they asked if we wanted to have it for a couple of days.
The shoot was in a place called Marble, in the middle of nowhere. I drove for a couple of hours back to where we were staying, with no other cars around, the top open, the most amazing scenery; it was like we’d gone back in time, but in the world’s most futuristic car.