Having spent 12 years battling with the likes of Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel on the Formula One circuit, Mark Webber is now leading the charge for Porsche in the FIA World Endurance Championship. Writing exclusively for Mobil 1 The Grid, the Australian shares his thoughts on the differences between the two series, and why he’s enjoying racing as part of a team.
As a racing driver, you always want to win. That instinct is the same today as it was when I was racing in Formula One, just as it was when I was racing karts.
I’m very lucky to have raced in Formula One and, now, the FIA World Endurance Championship. Each series is unique in its own way, and each presents its own unique set of challenges.
One of the big differences between the two championships for a driver is the fact that Formula One is more of an individual approach.
In WEC, you’re obviously sharing your car with your teammates, so it has a little bit more of Davis Cup feel to it. There’s a lot of camaraderie between the drivers, and you really have to work together to get the most out of the car, which is not the case in Formula One. The nature of F1 as a sport is very individual, even though you have a lot of engineers and resources to get the most out of the car.
During the race itself, the key difference is traffic, which is something you don’t really have to deal with in Formula One. In WEC, naturally, we have a lot of different categories racing within the same race, so that means a lot of different cars to deal with on track. Given that we’re in the fastest car and we have to lap the GTs, as well as some of the amateur drivers, that’s a huge difference that you don’t see in F1.
The cultural differences are evident, too. I suppose WEC is a little bit more traditional. The sportscar fabric has stayed within the sport whereas, in contrast, Formula One is very explosive and is over very quickly. Standing starts are obviously spectacular to watch, and there are more one-on-one battles between drivers in F1, but sportscar racing is built more on the attrition of man against machine, and against the endurance challenge of the race itself.
When it comes to being in the paddock, it’s more intense in F1, particularly when you’re winning races and fighting for victories. You’ve constantly got to be on top of that. There are at least 20 races over the course of a season, so that can become quite busy. In WEC, the battles and the rivalries are equally intense, but you’re racing against different drivers from, say, Audi or Toyota during a given stint or for a certain period of time during the race. So we know we don’t have to have really, really hard, wheel-to-wheel action, because the consequences are the race will ultimately take care of itself.
From a driver’s perspective, I can talk on behalf of the LMP1 drivers when I say there’s an immense amount of respect between us, probably because it’s actually more dangerous than F1, particularly at Le Mans. The LMP1 drivers are aware of that, so there has to be a bit more respect in the battles because we know there can be some consequences at those speeds.
In Formula One, there is a clear respect amongst the drivers who have been racing each other for a long time but, sometimes, we’ve seen crashes because that intensity has become a bit too high.
As far as friendships go, I definitely speak with the other drivers a lot more now than I did when I was in Formula One. In F1, you only saw each other at drivers’ briefings and the driver parade, so probably 20 minutes for the whole weekend.
In WEC, as drivers, we see each other a bit more. I had breakfast with the Toyota guys in Austin, for instance, which you would never do in F1. So the atmosphere’s a lot more open. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, but it is different.
And then you have the fans. As far as that support goes, I definitely think the WEC fans are a bit more hardcore. To be at Le Mans for 30+ hours requires some stamina, believe me. Obviously the race is 24 hours, but you’ve got to get there early, you’re going to be there afterwards, and you’re going to have to take all of your food and camping supplies. It’s definitely a different feel to what an F1 race weekend is.
Ultimately, there’s an immense amount of enthusiasm in both categories. A lot of people are locked onto F1 and they love following that. And then there are people that love endurance racing and they’re all over that.
In WEC, you have to say the fans get great access. They are able to get close to us and literally spend time with us, which is great. We can sign autographs and take photographs with them. You wouldn’t see that in F1.
At this stage in my career, I enjoy being where I am. But I also wanted my Formula One career at the point that I did. I’ve an immense amount of respect for both categories.