FEATURE: Webber on the home straight to retirement

Mark Webber celebrating one of two victories at Monaco (main). He will leave F1 at the end of the season    PHOTO: Red Bull Media
Mark Webber celebrating one of two victories at Monaco (main). He will leave F1 at the end of the season PHOTO: Red Bull Media

You wouldn’t think a celebration of the career of an Australian racing driver in Italy would have any ties to the Aylesbury Vale...

But when a who’s who of motorsport gathered at Monza for Mark Webber, the magnitude of what this global sporting star has achieved while living amongst us in Aston Clinton really hit home.

In 2011 Webber was named amongst the top earners in sport as he made an estimated $13.4 million the year before.

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07:  Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing walks in parc ferme following qualifying for the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at Autodromo di Monza on September 7, 2013 in Monza, Italy.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mark Webber

MONZA, ITALY - SEPTEMBER 07: Mark Webber of Australia and Infiniti Red Bull Racing walks in parc ferme following qualifying for the Italian Formula One Grand Prix at Autodromo di Monza on September 7, 2013 in Monza, Italy. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Mark Webber

But while the playboy lifestyle associated with Formula 1 is at the core of its appeal for many, the self-confessed adrenalin junkie admits he would rather be walking his dogs at home in the Vale.

He has always felt at home in the Vale and often referred, particularly on British Grand Prix weekends, to the goodwill of people in Aston Clinton and Aylesbury inspiring him to success. Webber even went as far as to credit fans in the Vale for helping him to his 2010 win at Silverstone with their ‘positive attitude and kind support’.

On the track Webber is fiercely competitive. Just ask his Red Bull teammate and world champion Seb Vettel who has felt the Aussie’s wrath on more than one occasion after a series of altercations. The latest whip of the tongue came during a recent appearance on BBC’s Top Gear. When asked by presenter Jeremy Clarkson whether he wanted to ‘punch’ Vettel after their latest dust-up, Webber replied: “My dad always told me not to hit little boys, mate.”

The former Minardi and Jaguar driver has never won the world championship but has nine race wins and 38 podiums to his name spanning a 210-race career so far.

He is famous for his strident views in F1, not one for mincing his words in interviews. But off the track, those lucky enough to have met him ‘off duty’ can’t help but be charmed by this ‘normal, polite, down-to-earth’ man. And there has been plenty of opportunity.

Webber has helped local causes and made appearances, both voluntary and arranged, at various events over the years in a bid to give something back to the local community who he says have made Aston Clinton a ‘home from home’ for a ‘kid from Queanbeyan, New South Wales.

In recent years he has given up precious time between his F1 racing schedule to help out locally, switching on the Wendover Christmas lights, making appearances at the opening of Dayla’s new premises and using Wendover Woods for training.

Most recently he was at the opening of new courts at Aston Park Tennis Club.

While there he was ‘scheduled’ to do an obligatory couple of swings of a racket against some youngsters and local players.

When the heavens opened, most celebrity sports stars would have exited stage left. Not Webber, though. He stayed on court even longer than scheduled, offering advice and cracking jokes.

This week, during time away from the pressure cooker environment of F1, Webber, patron of the Aylesbury College Trust, will again be attending a local event as he launches his annual Mark Webber Challenge at Waddesdon Manor on Friday.

The aim of the challenge? To help young people in Bucks get ahead and pursue careers in sport.

Webber waved goodbye to F1 racing in Europe at Monza at the weekend – he leaves the sport to race sports cars for Porsche in the World Endurance Championships next year and it raises the question of whether he will remain in the Vale.

When he first moved to the village, it provided an ideal commute to Red Bull’s Milton Keynes base and the British GP track at Silverstone.

But on the subject of his future, he is keeping his cards close to his chest, with the focus on enjoying things he has missed out on over the years, like going out and flying his helicopter!

“I really want to discover New Zealand’s South Island,” Webber says.

“I also want to go to sporting events that I haven’t managed to get to while I’ve been racing such as the State of Origin in Australia, the Chili Bowl in America and the Indy 500.

“The Australian Open tennis is another I’d like to see. I always get invited but can’t go.

“Add to that lots of helicopter flying. Currently I get out a couple of times a fortnight but I’d like to do it more often.”

The Sunderland fan has been touching on some of his favourite career memories in a special feature on his own website and recalls one race weekend in Shanghai with particular fondness.

“I was in a hotel in Shanghai and after a quick gym session, I planned on chilling out in my room,” Webber said.

“I was sweating like hell but my door key card wouldn’t work. Therefore I used the floor phone to ring reception to get someone to come and let me in, which they did. I was still pretty hot and so decided to cool down. Therefore I sat in the room with nothing on.

“After a while I went to the bathroom and unexpectedly everything had been cleaned. Then I couldn’t see my wash bag, so went to the wardrobe to see where some of my clothes were, and there was nothing there, either. I honestly thought our room had been broken into.

“Suddenly the penny dropped that I was actually in the wrong room stark naked. I quickly got dressed, rang reception and explained the situation. I remember getting into the lift with the television control in my hand. Don’t ask me why! In the end, it was a real close shave. Some poor person didn’t have a TV remote but it could have been even worse...”

Webber’s career has been followed closely in The Bucks Herald’s sports pages over the years and rumour has it he has a particular spread of one of his victories framed on the wall at home.

What an honour. But in truth, the honour has been all ours.

Follow Mark Webber on Twitter @AussieGrit

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