SINGAPORE (Oct 15): Mark Webber emerges from a crowd that had gathered around him at the Rolex suite at the Formula 1 2018 Singapore Airlines Grand Prix last month. The retired F1 driver and nine-time F1 race winner looks unflustered as he makes his way to the table where a group of journalists from Singapore are waiting to interview him.

Standing tall at 1.84m, Webber responds to our questions with ease. The first thing he reveals about retirement is that he gained the weight he lost while racing. It is hard to imagine that Webber, who is very lean, was thinner than this. He says he loses at least 2kg per race as the drivers have to endure high G forces, especially in countries with punishing temperatures such as Singapore.

Webber says, “We will lose weight easily. So, the preparation’s crucial. I had many tough nights here [in Singapore]. On Sunday night after the race, I usually have a cold bath at the hotel. One year, I had very bad blisters on my feet because the temperature on the floor was very hot and I had to ignore that to continue racing. But this [race] is an absolute signature event on the calendar. I think the city copes really well with it.”

The Australian champion and Rolex Testimonee says the synergy between motor sport and watchmaking is a close one. He says, “In order to be successful in both industries, you have to be world class. It goes without saying that timing is at the heart of motor sport. The drivers, teams and event organisers live by time. Whether we are designing a car or up against the split seconds on the stopwatch during a race, precise timing is everything in motor sport; it always has and always will be.”

But there is more to this relationship than just being a professional one; it is a personal one as well. It goes back to 2009 when he treated himself to a Rolex GMT Master II after winning his first F1 race at the German Grand Prix. To date, Webber has 10 Rolex timepieces in his collection. He also bought a Rolex Daytona timepiece for his father, a motorbike dealer in rural New South Wales, Australia. Coming from humble beginnings, Webber says his father could not fathom the amount of money he spent on a piece of jewellery. “But now that my dad has a Rolex, he understands how phenomenal these watches are.”

When he was made a Rolex Testimonee, Webber was delighted, as this put him in the same league, so to speak, with his mentor and racing legend Jackie Stewart, who has been a Rolex Testimonee for the last 50 years. Webber says, “The link has come full circle because my dad used to watch Jackie Stewart race and Jackie has been with Rolex for the last 50 years. I think the heroes that my dad had, fuelled [his] desire to see me race.”

Stewart, says Webber, is like a father figure to him and has been his mentor for the last 20 years. As the years went by, the bond between them grew stronger and they even co-wrote a book, Aussie Grit: My Formula One Journey.

Incidentally, Aussie Grit Apparel is also the name of Webber’s company, which sells clothes for off-road cycling as well as trail running gear for men and women. Since retiring, Webber has started the Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge — a gruelling race that involves running, biking, paddling and climbing.

He has also taken part in Race Across the Sky, which is not for the faint-hearted. Every year in summer, Leadville in Colorado, the US hosts the endurance bike race where participants ride up to the Columbine Mine aid station at 12,600ft.

What else is Webber up to? Here are excerpts from the round table interview he did with the media where he fielded questions on F1, retirement and his next venture.

Rolex is the global partner and official timepiece of F1.

Now that you have retired, do you miss being behind the wheel of the fastest cars in the world?

I do miss the team element. I miss the team component, yes. I mean in F1, you work with the best people. They’re always looking for what can give you the advantage and that’s why Rolex is here because Rolex has always been synonymous with being the best. And for F1, we want to work with the best people. As a driver, you miss some of that mentality because the people are winners — they’re really born winners; the engineers, the mechanics... they love winning, so that’s a beautiful environment to be in. I miss some of that, but I know it’s a young man’s game. So, I retired at the right time. I was 38. I’m 42 now.

It’s a fascinating business and sport from the professional side and it’s one of those things I will miss most. But I’m very fortunate that I have kept great relationships with people and I’m still with the best people in the world now, such as Rolex, for example. It’s easy to work with the best in the world. I’m very lucky to continue doing that outside racing.

You bought your first Rolex timepiece after your big win in 2009. What was it about the Rolex GMT Master II that drew you to it?

I had been waiting for a very significant moment in my life to give myself a present that meant so much to me. I mean it was nearly a 15-year mission to win a Grand Prix from when I started with go-karts at 12 years old. Of course, I was not thinking of Rolexes when I was 12, but when I got older and saw how classy, sophisticated and timeless a Rolex was, I wanted one. The Rolex GMT Master II that I bought is an understated piece. I just love how simple yet robust it is and the reputation that Rolex has — so this is a gift to myself for life.

What are the qualities you find most important in a watch?

Well, reliability is very important. The watch has to be functional and reliable. It is not easy to make a watch that is incredibly reliable and precise. The Rolex is incredibly accurate, so I use it for its precision. The watch is elegant and strong, tough and reliable — I think that’s a beautiful combination for racing. Rolex is like that —elegant, durable and timeless, and in racing it has to be like that too. We can’t have anything that will let us down. We need something that’s safe. We [must be able to] push it to the limits as well: that’s crucial.

What’s the most important lesson you have learnt on the tracks?

I’ve learnt so many pivotal lessons on the track that have put me in a better shape in my personal life. You learn how to work hard, not to rest on your laurels. Never judge a book by its cover; there are a lot of people who are doing some incredible things that you don’t always know about. In racing, whether it’s engineering or people in the background doing a lot of work — they’re not always the people in the front row — there are a lot of people behind. Of course, you treat people as you like to be treated yourself, you know, that’s very important.

Sport teaches you a lot of great values; the key word is resilience. You know, resilience is a great quality to have because you learn to deal with the ebbs and flows of professional sport that can then be related to your personal life because that’s life in general.

In life, you are going to face tough moments. Life is not a straight road, we know that. And in sport, you have to be tenacious, resilient and be a big believer in yourself. You have to have a lot of confidence and belief, so that’s what sport gives you. That’s what motor racing gave me.

You have previously said, ‘don’t do -anything you’d regret in your career’. Is there anything that you have regretted?

Oh yes, of course. There were scenarios where I would have loved to be on another team. Some big decisions and maybe I didn’t really get that one right, but you haven’t got a crystal ball and then there would be over 100 small errors and regrets in your career. There has to be. But it’s [all about] learning, learning and learning.

Of course you will make many mistakes in your career. I mean look at Roger Federer serving double faults sometimes. You try because there’s a bit of risk there. We do it too. We want to try [something new] because we believe in ourselves. We test the water. We’re always optimistic to try something new and when you do that, you’ll make mistakes. 
You have to be prepared to put yourself out of your comfort zone and then you’re going to make errors. Are errors regrets? Not really, because it’s also pushing the envelope of learning.

What were your top three proudest driving moments? 

Winning the Monte Carlo Grand Prix in 2010 and getting my trophy from Jackie Stewart. This was a big closing moment for me, very special. Winning my first Grand Prix in 2009 in Germany. And winning my first race in Europe in Formula 4; so in 1996, I won my first European race away from Australia. To me, that meant that I could compete at this level. I could race against these guys. I was reading about them in magazines in Australia and then I came to Europe and started to beat them. This was big for me.

What are your favourite tracks?

By coincidence, all the ones I won! I love Monaco and Silverstone. I also always enjoyed Albert Park and Suzuka, though I didn’t have much success at either of those tracks.

What car do you usually drive these days?

I have been buying Porsche cars for 10 years now and the 911 is my daily car.

You have done the Tasmania challenge, which you initiated; you’ve also participated in Race Across the Sky. What’s next for you?

I want to do the race across the sky again. I want to go a bit quicker this year. It wasn’t that good [last year] because I’d been busy, but I’ve done better in the past, so I want to try it again. It’s always a problem with my wife because she doesn’t like when I do too many long and extreme events; she knows things can happen. But unfortunately, it’s in my nature.

Aussie Grit Apparel sells clothes for off-road cycling as well as trail running gear for men and women.

I’m always looking for that pioneering endeavour. I have this in me to try to learn and push myself to the limit. So, it would probably involve another [challenge], mountain bike racing with smaller bikes. I’d like to do some paddling too. There are some really long kayak paddling things that I’d like to do.

I’ve got to spend less time with my crazy friends because they make me come up with the ideas; so it’s no good, it’s brilliant. I really enjoy the unknown. It’s always the unknown that you love because when you set that goal for yourself, even if it’s six months of training, you never know how it is going to go on that day. How are you going to perform? How am I going to do this? This is a great fascination for me. I have expectations and set the bar quite high. That’s human instinct again. It’s a Rolex mentality again. When all the people you are surrounded by are good people, you want to do well.

This article appeared in Issue 852 (Oct 15) of The Edge Singapore.

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