He was a champion in his own right, but Mark Webber switched his focus to Australia’s young people when he helped kick-start the Champion Edge at Albert Park on Tuesday ahead of Sunday’s 2014 Formula 1® Rolex Australian Grand Prix.
Before leading a group of school students out to run a lap of the 5.3-km Australian Grand Prix circuit, Webber, now 37, explained why he was personally championing the Champion Edge cause.
“We’re trying to target 13 to 16-year-olds, giving them a bit more of a chance to lift the bar: on health, the mental side of things, to help them achieve a little more self-esteem,” said the man who won nine World Championship Grands Prix in his 215-race F1 career.
“It’s a pretty challenging age, I think, with a lot of things coming on the radar and a lot of important decisions to be made.”
Webber was joined on track by Olympians Lydia Lassila and Steve Hooker and was quick to express his disappointment that some teachers had rung to cancel their students’ participation and their chance to meet such role models because of a concern that it might rain.
“That’s exactly why we need more opportunities for kids to get out there and make a little bit more of themselves – just to get on with it, have some drive and ambition,” Webber said.
“It’s needed, I think, in that age group, and that’s why Champion Edge are also arranging events like the one planned for Alice Springs in April involving 1000 teenagers.”
Inevitably, with Australian media surrounding him, the former Red Bull Racing driver was asked what advice he would give to the man who has taken his F1 race seat – compatriot Daniel Ricciardo.
“He doesn’t need much advice,” said Webber smartly.
“He’s got his head screwed on, he’s very quick and he’s got a great team around him – he’ll go well. He’s 24 – if he’s not ready now he never will be.”
Webber has moved into endurance racing with Porsche and is looking forward to renewing acquaintance with one of the world’s most famous race tracks.
“I’m enjoying the switch to sports cars,” he said. “Still very, very important races, and the Le Mans 24-Hour in the middle of the season is the blue ribbon event for us.
“I’m really excited to be part of the program. It’s a nice way for me to still enjoy that adrenaline, a great tonic to have the chance to race at this old age!”