Mark Webber exclusive

After months of rumour and speculation it was finally confirmed this week that Mark Webber is joining Williams next year. The deal wasn't as straightforward as it appears, for he first had to get out of his long-term Jaguar commitment, and then side-step Renault. All is finally settled. Adam Cooper spoke to the Aussie star

Mark Webber exclusive

Most folk were surprised when early last season Mark Webber extended his commitment to Jaguar. Fortunately for him the arrangement included performance clauses that allowed him to escape if a better offer came along, and that's exactly what has happened.

An added complication was Flavio Briatore's role as manager of his contract. Inevitably the Renault boss saw Mark as a replacement for Jarno Trulli, but while the Anglo-French team is most definitely on the up, Webber was determined to go to Williams.

The game played itself out, and in the end Flav took Giancarlo Fisichella, while his ongoing cut of Mark's Williams earnings will no doubt keep him happy. The man at the centre of the tug-of-love is more than relieved that the talking is finally over.

"It's been a bit frustrating, obviously," he admits. "You set your heart on something, and anything you want, you want then. So yes, it's dragged on for a bit, but that happened for a reason, with the cloud hanging over Renault. We obviously pushed very hard for Williams."

Contact was first made after Williams learned that Juan Pablo Montoya was angling for a McLaren drive, following the infamous bust-up in the 2003 French GP.

"Frank's first phone call was after Silverstone last year, and then it intensified over that period. It developed coming into January/February really, the winter testing time. We stayed in touch through that period, and it started to get more aggressive. Frank was keen, and so was I. When you've got someone like Frank ringing you quite a lot, it's pretty flattering.

"Of course you never know what sort of season you're going to have, you're worried about the new car you're going to drive, and how it's all going to pan out. You don't know what the opposition is going to do. It turns out that we started off well, and that helped. It was more really up to Flavio then with Renault, and what options he could find."

Earlier this season Renault seemed an unlikely destination for Webber, mainly because the two seats appeared to be full, so it was a surprise when his name was mentioned.

"Well, Jarno was there, and then he wasn't. I've got a huge amount of respect for the Renault team, I'm, very, very close to most of the guys on the floor there, and I learned a lot testing there [in 2001]. It was very rewarding for me, and they're clever guys. But my heart was leading me up the road. That's where I wanted to go, and that's how it evolved, really. Flavio knew that. I think everyone's got what they wanted in the end.'

So was there ever a situation where Briatore could have forced Mark to go to Renault?

"It was going to be tough, to be honest. I had a lot of discussions, and Flavio has been awesome, really good to me through the whole thing, really. As I said, everyone's got what they want now, so that's the main thing."

In recent weeks Mark has always made it clear to the media that he had a decision to make, giving the impression that he had to choose between Williams and Renault. In retrospect it seems that it wasn't really much of a decision.

"Exactly. That was it. Renault had some good races, and then Williams went though a bit of a phase there, which didn't help Flavio's thinking on things. But it wasn't much of a decision. I tried to stay consistently with Williams as I possibly could personally, and that was important for us."

Mark's arrival at Williams follows the recent promotion of his countryman Sam Michael. They share not only a background in New South Wales, but also a straightforward, no nonsense approach. Michael has apparently championed Mark within the Williams camp, although the pair don't actually know each other well.

"I hadn't really spoken to Sam until this year, I didn't know him at all. I just know that if Patrick and Frank give someone some wings and give them an opportunity, then obviously they've got some respect for the guy, whatever nationality he is. Sam is obviously on a pretty similar channel to me, which is very useful from the get-off. That's going to be healthy for us, I hope."

There remains a big question mark over the identity of the second driver. Although Mark says he gets on with Antonio Pizzonia personally, there's little doubt that - despite his favoured position at Williams - his former Jag colleague would not be Webber's ideal choice.

"I have absolutely no influence on it. I need someone with whom I'm very, very even, and we're pushing each other each weekend as much as we can, helping to develop the car, and having a healthy situation in general."

So does that mean he wants someone with experience?

"Not necessarily. You can bark up both trees as much as you want. You can go youthful, or go for someone whose a seasoned campaigner and knows the score. Both can work. I've seen both work very well and both not work well, in terms of one not having the motivation, and the other not having the experience and making too many mistakes when it counts. It's tough to say."

Most drivers dream of a seat at Williams, but it didn't work out for Heinz-Harald Frentzen, or for Alex Zanardi, who really got his timing wrong. The fact that both Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher have baled out could suggest that they know something we don't. But Webber has no qualms.

"You always think it's greener somewhere else. Those two drivers have decided to leave, but they've been there for a long time, and we'll see if their decisions are correct. The decisions I've made are ones that I'll be firmly sticking behind, and I'll keep pushing as much as I can to make it work.

"It's a bigger team. What's happened at Jaguar has been very rewarding, and they've helped me a tremendous amount as well. I've done the easy work in a lot of ways, just driving the car. I've worked reasonably hard off the track. At Williams how I'm going to do all of that, time will tell. It's going to be important that I work hard for the team, as it is for any driver."

Mark still has six more outings with his current employers.

"I have absolutely no problem at all in finishing the season motivation wise. I'm still really, really enjoying the situation I'm in, and I love competing with Jaguar. Obviously it's going to be a new phase for me next year."

Ironically the last three races have seen some of his most convincing Jag outings to date, so the package is getting better. A feisty sixth place at Hockenheim came in a race where the man himself was expecting disaster. On Saturday night he was regretting a tyre choice that he feared would leave him struggling, and he was as surprised as anyone when it worked out well.

"It turned out a lot better than we thought. We don't know why it worked, that's the problem! We stuck to our guns. It just shows, in motor racing you never know what can happen. We were worried going into the race that we were going to have problems, but my engineer was right in the end, and I was wrong.

"We kept hanging in there, and it was a big first lap that put us in good shape to get ahead of some of the others. I tried one little fun move with Jarno, and then Takuma got me. I had to try something, because I was getting a bit thwarted behind him. Jarno was so slow, he had so much understeer. I tried down the inside of him, couldn't get him, and then Sato got me at the hairpin. Then I managed to get Sato back."

Hungary is next, where last year Mark qualified third and put in what he regards as one of his best performances, albeit for a humble sixth place.

"Again, we'll have to see how we go on Friday, and pick the right tyres. You can make the wrong decision before you even get there..."

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