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Top 20 Stories of 2016

Top Stories of 2016, #20: Webber bows out of racing

Motorsport.com begins its annual countdown of the biggest racing stories of the year this week, starting with the surprise departure of Mark Webber from the FIA World Endurance Championship scene.

Top Stories of 2016, #20: Webber bows out of racing
Mark Webber
LMP1 Podium: second place #7 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18: Marcel Fässler, Andre Lotterer, Benoit Tréluyer, race winners #8 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18: Lucas di Grassi, Loic Duval, Oliver Jarvis, third place #1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley, first place LMP1 privé, #13 Rebellion Racing Rebellion R-One AER: Matheo Tuscher, Dominik Kraihamer, Alexandre Imperatori
Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Porsche Team
Polesitter Mark Webber, Red Bull Racing, second place Nico Rosberg, Mercedes AMG F1, third place Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull Racing
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
Mark Webber, Porsche Team
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
Race winners #1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard
#1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley
Polesitters #1 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Timo Bernhard, Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley

It says much for the esteem that Webber is held in that, on the Thursday before the Fuji WEC race, when he announced his retirement from motorsport, there was barely a dry eye in the Porsche garage.

Gathering his colleagues together, Webber made a brief speech to the team and a short time later the news was released to the world. After 25 years of professional racing, Webber was calling time on a career which mirrored his own personality - strong, committed and always relatable.

How many drivers have been successful in both Formula 1 and endurance racing in the last 20 years? Very few is the answer, and while Webber never quite converted his 2010 peak in F1 to become Australia’s first champion since Alan Jones 30 years before, his legacy as a canny and tough competitor is now set in stone with an extra reinforcement of that famous Aussie grit.

Webber showed what would become his trademark resolve early on in his career. Arriving in the UK at the tail-end of 1995, he was immediately on the pace in the cut and thrust world of Formula Ford.

A starring role in that year's Formula Ford Festival sprung him into a works Van Diemen the following year, and the rest of the story was a hard-fought scrap through F3, GT, F3000 and then a dozen seasons in F1, which netted nine grand prix victories for Red Bull Racing.

It was a career that put him in a useful position for helping other drivers too. He didn’t have to, but Webber used his experience to practically advise drivers such as Mitch Evans and Brendon Hartley, and he much enjoyed it.

Uneasy relationship with Le Mans

The final act of Webber’s career took him back to a place he thought he would never go back after that nightmarish series of events in 1999: Le Mans.

It would be overly dramatic to state that La Sarthe was Webber’s nemesis - after all, it was hardly his fault that the incidents in 1999 occurred. Still, when he left the place in a confused state that weekend, it seemed he was unlikely to ever return.

When he did contest Le Mans again 15 years later, it was as a works Porsche driver. That year, 2014, was the closest he would get to winning the race, and there remained a sense that, like with Anthony Davidson’s continued quest for the top step, it may be a long haul getting to it.

There was something of a misconception that Webber wasn’t that good at Le Mans. This season, his best 20-lap average was faster than all his teammates, and bettered only by Neel Jani in the sister Porsche.

Make no mistake: Webber got Le Mans. It may have taken a little time to get re-acquainted with the place, but it was worth the wait in the end.

“There is no doubt that Mark has been quick, and if he wasn’t, then he wouldn’t have been in the car. I think if there was any criticism of pace, then it is completely unfounded,” Webber’s engineer Kyle Wilson-Clarke told Motorsport.com in Shanghai last month.

“I think if people understand the concept of how sensitive the cars are to weight, and what he carries in the car compared to other drivers, he is bloody quick (with all the kit he weighs in at just under 80kg). The two other guys in the car are much lighter.”

Wilson-Clarke made a valid point, as Webber is approximately 12kg heavier than teammate Timo Bernhard. Porsche runs ballast in the car to compensate the average weight, and data has proven that this counts for 0.35s a lap. That hurts on a straight the size of the Mulsanne.

Now it’s time for Webber to leave the stage to reap the rewards of his success, and he has done it at the top of arguably one of the toughest and most competitive series in the world.

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