Webber: No qualms over Le Mans safety

Webber's wild ride during qualifying for Le Mans 1999

Webber’ suffered two wild rides at Le Mans 1999

Mark Webber says he’ll have no fears about returning to the Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time since his terrifying accidents in the 1999 event.

The 36-year-old Australian announced on Thursday that he will retire from Formula 1 at season’s end to join Porsche’s sportscar tilt.

The confirmation of Webber’s Le Mans return comes just days after popular GT class driver Allan Simonsen was killed in the 2013 running of the race – the first fatality since in almost 30 years.

Speaking of his own experiences, Webber believes that the advancements made in the design of the outright contending cars since his last visit has made the race significantly safer.

Webber competed at Le Mans with Mercedes-Benz in 1998 and 1999, with his CLK flipping at high speed in both qualifying and the morning warm-up for the latter race, seeing the then Formula 3 graduate lucky to emerge unscathed.

The Mercedes cars were all withdrawn following a similar crash from team-mate Peter Dumbreck in the early hours of the race.

The incidents were later blamed on an aerodynamic design flaw with the cars. Others, including Porsche’s own team, had also experienced less high-profile lift-generated flips at other venues in that era.

“Le Mans in 1999, that era, those cars were very very… I think the regulations were quite dangerous,” said Webber following the announcement of his Porsche deal.

“We had a lot of cars having some big shunts in that era. I think all manufacturers had issues with keeping the cars on the ground, just because of the way the regs were written and they were quite quick.

“Look, motor racing is dangerous, I accept that, we all know that. Motor racing is dangerous.

“Le Mans is a classic race. The cars are not slow there now but I’m not a guy who wants to wrap myself in cotton wool either.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge and yeah, it’s something which was in my thinking in terms of the safety factors, all those things which have improved since we were there last and they will continue to improve as well, not just the circuit but the cars.

“We’ve gone forward since 13 years ago.”

Speaking to the media ahead of this weekend’s British Grand Prix, Webber was forced to defend the timing of his Porsche announcement.

The Porsche and Webber camps went public with the news just minutes after informing Infiniti Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner, and without first notifying the majority of the Formula 1 outfit at its Milton Keynes base.

“It wouldn’t have been an announcement then, would it?” said Webber in response to the latter point.

“So you’ve got to get the balance right. Obviously I will talk to the factory of course at some stage.

“They’ve been superb for me on the floor there but Porsche were very keen to make the announcement.

“Dietrich (Mateschitz, Red Bull owner) has been completely up to speed with my thinking in the last six to eight months,” Webber continued.

“He’s certainly encouraged me not to rush my decision when I approached him earlier in the season.

“I think basically all of the right channels and avenues that we went through to get the message across as subtly as we could in terms of the announcement was done in the right way.”

Webber will continue to be backed by the drinks giant next year, with Mateschitz stating that the Australian will wear a Red Bull helmet when racing the Porsche.

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