Mark has spent six weeks in Australia over the winter – his longest uninterrupted stint Down Under since the start of his Formula One career in 2002. On his return to Europe for winter testing in February, he gives us his thoughts.
Mark, you’ve managed to avoid most of the European winter this year. How have the last few weeks in Australia been for you?
“I had an incredible time in the southern hemisphere over the past couple of months, enjoying the endless sun on my back and catching up with family and friends. The beach lifestyle on my doorstep in Noosa in Queensland is just perfect for recharging the energy levels, particularly when I’m on the water, taking my surf ski or surfboard out. It’s you and the elements. It’s a relaxing and rewarding challenge/hobby for me and it’s a great way to switch off over the holiday.
“I was also fortunate enough to be in one of the first places in the world to welcome in 2013 as we spent a few days on Laucala in Fiji which is an exclusive island resort owned by Dietrich Mateschitz. He’s been telling me to go for a few years now and I can see why! He’s done an amazing job capturing and maintaining the sheer beauty and nature of a South Pacific island while creating a resort that is escapism at its best; it’s probably the most idyllic place I’ve ever been to.
“As many of you will know, Australia has been hit by some freak weather over the past month or so. First up, we were sweltering under a heat wave with temperatures nudging 45c in some parts of the country. That meant it was a particularly challenging few weeks for Australian fire-fighters as the extreme temperatures combined with high winds fuelled bush fires across large parts of Australia with many tragedies and sad stories emerging. But without the courageous work of the fire-fighters, even more would have been at risk throughout the country. And then, in the last few days since I’ve been back in the UK, Queensland has been smashed by the tail end of a tropical cyclone which has caused a lot of damage to property, flooding throughout the state and sadly three deaths. Australia is a beautiful yet harsh country and Mother Nature constantly reminds us who’s boss.”
How much of a relief is it to have removed the rod from your leg, and how long have you been able to train normally since the operation on 06 December?
“I had the final procedure on my right leg at the start of December to remove the remaining piece of metalwork, a 40cm titanium rod. The surgery went very smoothly and my recovery was exceptional. I had a few weeks off from my normal training schedule but I was able to ease myself back into it by the first week of January and now I’m back into it properly. I didn’t really know what to expect from having it removed, apart from my own peace of mind, but I’m very happy that some of the niggles and pain I’ve sometimes experienced with my training over the past three years already seem to be a thing of the past.”
The Swisse Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge was more successful than ever in 2012. How challenging was the route and how proud does the event’s success make you feel?
“I love being present for the event and the 2012 Challenge was the best yet. The depth of athletes we had was amazing as was the weather which was the icing on the cake in terms of us being able to capture the very best Tasmania has to offer. We had some un-seasonally hot days out on the course which added to the mental and physical challenge for everyone. I always derive a lot of satisfaction from seeing people complete the event and the emotions that run through them having successfully conquer something they were so intimidated by earlier in the week. It shouldn’t be long before the Challenge documentary goes to air, so keep your eyes peeled for it although sadly some of the recent bushfires affected some of the areas we covered.”
In a recent interview with the Red Bulletin, Helmut Marko criticised elements of your driving and appears to have cast aspersions on your character. What’s your reaction to his comments?
“Look, everyone at this level has their own agendas and it’s been evident for a long time now that I’ve never been a part of Marko’s.”
Looking ahead to the 2013 season, what are your expectations?
“I’m sure we’ve got another exciting and challenging season ahead, and it’ll be interesting to see who comes out of the gates strongly; you might get an inkling from pre-season testing to the form book but it’s only when we arrive in Melbourne for the first race that the gloves really come off. I’m certainly looking forward to getting my hands on the RB9 and I also have a new race engineer in Simon Rennie. It’s going to be important to have a solid pre-season with him after spending some six years with Ciaron Pilbeam who I had a long and enjoyable relationship with, but he’s no longer with the team. I’m looking forward to starting the season in Australia having prepared very well for it over the past two months. But it’s clear there’s no point getting too far ahead of yourself, so it’s a case of taking each week, test and race as it comes.”
Mark Webber is the Team Principal of MW Arden, a three car team in the new GP3 series supporting European Grands Prix.