Mark Webber closes in on World Endurance Championship

By Jonathan LegardBBC Sport
Mark Webber (left), Timo Bernhard (centre) and Brendon Hartley finished second at the Le Mans 24-Hour race in June
Mark Webber (left), Timo Bernhard (centre) and Brendon Hartley finished second at the Le Mans 24-Hour race in June

Almost exactly five years after Mark Webber lost his best chance of becoming Formula 1 world champion, the Australian is on the brink of fulfilling his title dream in the World Endurance Championship this weekend in Bahrain.

In only his second season with Porsche, Webber and his two team-mates, German Timo Bernhard and New Zealander Brendon Hartley, need a fourth-place finish or better in the 6 Hours of Bahrainexternal-link on Saturday to complete a remarkable run of success for car number 17.

Winners of the last four races, they were runners-up at the previous event in June and took third at Spa in the race before that in May.

Webber, 39, cannot remember such a hot streak of form beyond his days in junior categories and admits he never expected to be in contention so quickly at this stage of his return to sportscars.

Mark Webber and Porsche team-mate Brendon Hartley
Webber has passed on the importance of "dealing with the emotions" of motorsport to his team-mates Brendon Hartley (pictured) and Timo Bernhard

"I'm very surprised we're in this position," he said. "We had a few tough races at the start of the championship and now here we are in Bahrain ready to close the championship off hopefully.

"It started in an incredible June where we got two cars home at Le Mans and had a 1-2 against Audi.

"Since then we have won every race and I don't think we envisaged that - the aggressive mentality of the F1 approach."

Not surprisingly, after his 12 years at the highest level of single-seater, open-wheel competition, Webber draws heavily on his experience of fighting against the likes of Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, the other contenders for the 2010 title at the final race of that season in Abu Dhabi.

He learnt the hard way on that occasion, finishing eighth behind his three rivals and third overall in the championship. This time he aims to make amends.

Mark Webber in his Porsche at Spa
A dominant Porsche team, with Webber at the helm, took third at Spa - their lowest finish in the past six races

"Being a professional for so long, you have the ability to deal with the emotions and really pull it right back and just keep the basics in order, and that's what we've got to try to do," said Webber.

"Having the scenarios played out if we've got things we need to deal with - are we rehearsed, are we practised, are we ready to go?

"We don't want any what ifs, any 'woulda, coulda, shoulda' at 10pm on Saturday night."

Vettel and Webber - best of enemies

Webber's challenge in 2010 was complicated by his acrimonious relationship with Red Bull team-mate Vettel.

The German profited most from the Australian's problems with backmarkers under the lights at Yas Marina by winning the race and the championship.

The team dynamic within the three-man Porsche 919 Hybrid line-up is noticeably more harmonious.

"You have to be super, super open with each other in terms of communication, in terms of getting the best out of each other, the little strengths and weaknesses of each other in terms of corners you like, what type of tracks you like, what type of conditions do you like and even how the car develops," he revealed.

"We've got a young bright-eyed and bushytailed youngster in Brendon Hartley, Timo Bernhard is super experienced in this category and then myself with a lot of experience.

"We try to make the sure the car doesn't know who's in the car, which driver is in. The car has to be very benign, so we can use it."

Mark Webber drives his Porsche in the rain at Fuji
First place went to Webber's Porsche team at a wet Fuji track, marking their third win in a run of four

In his recent autobiography, Webber was critical of the way Red Bull allowed his partnership with Vettel to disintegrate following a series of incidents in 2010 and beyond.

It's a marked contrast to his views on his current set-up where he believes his F1 experiences have contributed to Porsche's surge to the head of the field.

"To put together this campaign with a great bunch of guys, I have felt pretty instrumental in it and I suppose that's as rewarding as other grand prix wins because I've had a bit more impact here in trying to help.

"It's a big, big team and everyone's done a great job but it's been really nice to have been able to help behind the scenes and if we can put the icing on the cake it'll be a really, really nice feather in my cap."

Webber and his team-mates lead the Audi trio of Switzerland's Marcel Fassler, Germany's Andre Lotterer and France's Benoit Treluyer by 13 points.external-link

They extended their advantage by an extra point on Friday after Bernhard and Hartley secured their fifth pole position of the season at the Sakhir track.

The circuit where the wind blows off the desert and makes tyre performance even more critical is not one of Webber's favourites. Last year's third place with Porsche was his best in 11 races here.

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"We're in good shape, very confident we can have my best result here ever and then if that's enough - and that will be enough if I'm on the podium steps - then it'll a very, very long night on Saturday."

And if he does become world champion for the first time in his 21 years in motorsport, will it rank as his finest achievement?

"It would certainly be right up there, mate. It's not easy to win a grand prix and it's not easy to do what we've done here.

"My biggest, biggest achievement to put together this championship with the other guys…?"

His pause before delivering a classic Webber line says it all.

"We'll certainly give it a good shake, yeah."

After the anti-climax in one Middle Eastern kingdom on 14 November 2010, Webber has atonement in his sights on 21 November 2015 in another.

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