When we sat down for breakfast with Australian motorsport legend Mark Webber, we were surprised to learn that it was his first visit to the Northern Pacific coast during the annual celebration of all things automotive: Monterey Car Week. His overall impressions of the event are enthusiastic, “California is synonymous with extraordinary cars and style. Coming here for the first time, I’ve been amazed by the variety of motoring activity. We’ve seen unbelievable cars from all around the world at The Quail and at the Concours, while at the race track it was great to see the cars being pushed to the limit. It has been staggering to see the passion, the patience and the painstaking love.”
Webber knows about this kind of passion and dedication. Active as a Formula One driver from 2002 until 2013, Webber racked up nine wins, 42 podiums and finished third in the overall driver championship three times. Following his retirement from Formula One, he was recruited by Porsche in 2014 to join their FIA World Endurance Championship team—their first in 16 years. The first season of racing the Porsche 919 Hybrid was marred by a freaky crash at 6 Hours of Sao Paulo where Webber miraculously escaped serious injury and the team finished ninth overall that year. He would bounce back in 2015 to become the FIA World Endurance champion and follow that up with a respectable fourth place overall finish for the 2016 season.
Having announced his intention to retire at the end of the year, he was asked by Porsche to take on a representative role with the brand and a call from Rolex came not long after. He tells us, “It was an honor for me to receive that phone call, especially having already been a fan of the brand and bought timepieces from them—as well as won a few through racing. To get closer to the brand, to have met so many amazing people through that relationship, it’s been such a privilege for me. I’ve been to Rolex HQ in Switzerland and when you see the journey that this brand has been on for the past 90 years, how closely it has been linked to motorsport the whole time, man and machine, pushing the boundaries of what these timepieces can take, it’s really incredible.”
We had a chance to dig into what Webber admires and finds interesting about Rolex, and while he has an affinity for their technical excellence, he also appreciates their commitment to raising the bar. “Racing drivers are fussy because of what we’ve been exposed to in terms of machinery and their design and mechanical engineering, so when I see how Rolex goes about things, I’m happy to say I can accept that. What it really comes down to though is trust. Especially back in the day with epic climbs or deep dives, it was truly life or death stakes, and what Rolex brought to the table was a timepiece these adventure-seekers could trust.”
While he always wears a watch on his wrist, he hasn’t gone all in on the lifestyle. “I’m not a big collector, I’ve got a few Daytonas—obviously because racing—but when I won my first Gran Prix, I rewarded myself with a Rolex GMT, which was perfect for me as I don’t like things that are too showy. I prefer timelessness and elegance, but can’t sacrifice toughness either. The Daytona Oysterflex is another one I got more recently that I really like wearing because it’s so versatile.” It makes sense that Webber would enjoy such watches, given his involvements outside motorsports—from tennis to cycling and mountain biking.
As for cars, Webber tells us, he’s actually “not that difficult to please,” despite being a “fussy race car driver.” This dichotomy makes sense though and he explains, “I like road cars, but ultimately I’m a racing driver so my emotions are stirred by race cars like Jim Clark’s Lotus 49 which is a gorgeous looking car. The cigar shape, Colin Chapman’s design was very much at the limits, great power to weight ratio. As far as street legal ones go, probably a Porsche 550 Spyder, which is stunning any way you look at it and I’ve been fortunate enough to drive one. That being said, I haven’t driven a Porsche 959 and I’d very much like to do that.” The cars that Webber enjoys have similar qualities to the watches he appreciates.
During Monterey Car Week, Niki Lauda’s Ferrari 1975 312T had the biggest impact on Webber. He explains that Lauda “was an incredible individual on and off the racetrack—an absolute gladiator who went through a lot and I was very fortunate to call him a friend. To see that car and to see it sell for $6 million was very special indeed. It makes me happy to know that someone appreciates it like I do.”
Although he clearly enjoys the classics, Webber isn’t living in the past. In less than a week, he’ll be unveiling Porsche’s first all-electric vehicle: the Taycan. “It’s this time of incredible innovation,” he tells us about the car. “I saw it first-hand with the 919 Hybrid, and truly the Taycan is pioneering. Racing helped me understand and appreciate new technologies by exposing me to engineers who were excited and enthusiastic about these things, so that was infectious.”
He’s clearly excited that soon the tech he was exposed to in the world of motorsports will be part of the consumer market. “Now you have this filtering down into street cars—cars are safer, more powerful, more connected and emotional. This car [the Taycan] will be the best electric car of its time and it completely pushes the boundaries of what’s possible,” he tells us. For a racing driver of Webber’s caliber to say that is noteworthy, but especially so considering Webber’s discerning taste when it comes to both cars and watches. If Mark Webber is on board with the first all-electric Porsche, we have to imagine they’ve come up with something impressive.
Images courtesy of Rolex