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A New Year for Formula One Racing
by Jean Mansen, Jaguar Associate Group San Francisco
posted 1/16/03

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While many F1 drivers celebrated the end of the 2003 season relaxing in the sun or skiing, Mark Webber found a challenging way to keep in shape and get an edge on his competition. Not one to rest on his laurels, Mark Webber's quest for continual improvement in his on- and off-track performance has earned him accolades from top motorsport journalist and fans. And, with the addition of Bahrain in 2004, a look at the first Middle Eastern Grand Prix plans is in order.

Mark Webber - Charity Challenge Leader

Billed as "not exactly an off-season jolly," Mark Webber set up and competed in a body-and-soul testing ten-day charity challenge around Tasmania this past November. Mark headed a four-man team and was one of only eight people who tackled the entire course. Four teams started - two finished. Beginning with a three-day trek along Tasmania's south coast through thick undergrowth under a covering of trees and leaves that on the brightest of days steal all the sun's warmth and much of its light obscuring the muddy path, the teams trekked across one of the island's most remote areas, the southwest corner, where the thousand-year-old forest is virtually uninhabited and fewer that 60 people per year walk. "Taking it on is utterly draining of body and will. What appears to be solid ground ahead can be two-foot-deep mud that will devour boots, ankles and legs in a single slushy gulp," writes Anthony Rowlinson, F1 Racing magazine executive editor and Webber teammate.

Why would Webber, whose driving skills and media-sweet demeanor have made him a force among the emerging pack jockeying for position in Michael Schumacher's wake, put himself through this? "Even as a Formula 1 driver, Webber confides he occasionally feels frustrated because he is insulated from his true personal limits. The car, always, is a barrier to self-discovery. Out here, with just his strength of mind and body to carry him, Mark is learning, in every way possible, what he is made of," observes Rowlinson, who also completed the challenge.

Part of Webber's make-up is his sense of compassion that drove him to instigate this event, which he hopes will raise at least GBP 100,000 (US$160,000) in aid of cancer suffers. But, there are lots of less personally punishing ways for a celebrity to raise that sum of money. Rowlinson believes that at some level Webber needed to prove himself to himself, as if, "in some small, dark, tucked-away corner, there's a suspicion that being an F1 driver is a slightly cushy way to earn a living for an individual of his natural talent."

Another teammate, Bernie Shrosbree, Mark's fitness trainer, has worked with Webber for more than five years and finds it remarkable that he has chose to impose such adversity on himself. "I've helped a lot of F1 drivers and none would have gone near something like this, let alone actually making it happen and putting their name on it. It's a huge risk for Webber." After completing the 10-day course, Shrosbree, without a moment's pause, reckoned that Webber's biggest benefit came from "knowing that he has done something that none of his rivals on the grid can touch." Shrosbree saw "burgeoning leadership qualities emerge in Webber as the event progressed. At the start he was happy to follow most things I told him. But towards the end, he was taking the initiative and suggesting how we should pace ourselves. It showed how much confidence he had gained. That's the mark of the man."

Mark Webber Receives Media Kudos

Mark Webber was named as the tenth (of 50) best driver of the year in Autosport magazine's tremendous Christmas issue. The Australian's latest accolade comes shortly after Autosport's sister magazine, Autocar, named him as their 'Driver of the Year'. "He appears to be the only other man on the grid to have embraced the significance of Schuey's all-encompassing approach to racing," read Autosport's column. "Add this to qualities of clear thinking, mental toughness, a hyper-competitive nature and very real talent and Webber seems set to be a major player of the future."
In the same issue, two prominent motorsport journalists lauded Webber in the 2003 Grand Prix review pundits' column. Maurice Hamilton of BBC Radio Five Live gave Webber his thumbs up for the biggest surprise of 2003 saying, "Without doubt it would have to be Mark Webber and the Jaguar R4. Even allowing for the Michelins being the tire of choice, their performances were far better than expected." F1 Racing and Autosport Group Editor Matt Bishop also gave Webber the nod for the biggest surprise of the year. "We all expected Mark to be (a) professional, (b) media savvy, (c) good with his engineers, (d) good with Jaguar's sponsors, and (e) supremely fit. What we didn't expect - and were delighted to see - was exactly how quick the Aussie was."

Bahrain - the Chicest New Venue for F1

Bahrain promises a unique setting for a Formula 1 race thanks to the heat, arid landscape and generosity of the Bahraini people.

In terms of temperature, it will be similar to Malaysia. It is surprisingly humid and cockpit temperatures in early April are expected to reach 50 degrees Celsius. Bahrain follows two weeks after Malaysia, so all should be accustomed to working in the heat, yet fitness will be vitally important, especially for the drivers who are expected to lose a lot of fluid during the race.

Bahrainis are proud of the fact that they are the first Middle Eastern nation to host a Grand Prix. Without the infrastructure necessary to host the Olympic Games or the Football World Cup, Bahrain is hugely satisfied to have attracted the world's third-largest sporting event. Bahrain (population 800,000) is fast becoming the financial capital of the Middle East, placing increasingly less reliance on Bahrain's natural oil reserves. With Monaco-like parties planned, the April 3 -4 weekend promises to be a spectacular event.

The track is being constructed adjacent to Bahrain's only university near the town of Jebel Al-Dukhan. It is the highest point of Bahrain and just a stone's throw from the Middle East's first oil well (and you thought oil was first discovered in Saudi Arabia?). The site was one of three suggested, and was chosen by Hermann Tilke, who built the new Hockenheim and Malaysia tracks, because the land's undulations make it easier to build a track with character. There are a lot of blind crests and downhill breaking areas, which should create some interesting overtaking opportunities.

The circuit cost $150 million to build with more than 2,400 people employed to construct it. Most workers have been imported from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and are being paid only $5 - $10 per day. The circuit will have a crowd capacity of 200,000, almost twice that of most other F1 venues.

To counteract any potential problems from blowing sand, Tilke is working to create the 'grippiest' track surface in the world using granite from Wales mixed with asphalt in what is reported to be the most sophisticated and durable asphalt available. This asphalt is expected to be very hard on tires, making for an interesting race as teams struggle to make their tires go the distance. Some express concern that blowing sand will cause the track to be slippery, like Hungary's dust bowl. To combat concerns over blowing sand and dust, race organizers will cover the surrounding sand with a special film to stop it blowing onto the track during the race weekend.

If you are thinking of attending, you should know that every hotel in Bahrain is fully booked for the race, however, Gulf Air will provide extra flights from other Middle Eastern countries to allow fans to commute to the race.