Speed Racer Mark Webber Red Bull F1 pg2Formula One racing is the most expensive, technologically advanced and (arguably) glamorous form of sport in the world. It’s a contest of precision and athleticism, of ideas and audacity. And, at the end of the day, speed. After a five-year absence, F1 is set to return to American shores for the US Grand Prix in November. With the green flag set to wave, PLAYBOY got Australian Mark Webber, one of two pilots on the Red Bull team – the best in the world for the past two seasons, shooting for a third straight year of winning both the drivers’ and constructors’ world championships – to suit up in some of the finest threads. When it comes to style, laid-back is in Webber’s DNA. “I’m from Australia, mate,” he says. “I wear trainers, jeans, T-shirts. It takes me 10 minutes to get ready.” But when he’s in the cockpit, he’s anything but laid-back.

The winner of seven F1 races got his start (as all F1 drivers seem to) in go-karts when he was 12 years old. He raced in Australia, then moved to Europe to try to make it. You need to exhibit greatness to find a ride in the most competitive and popular form of international motor sport. What separates good from great? “You need to have the car at one with you,” says the 35-year-old, “so you can push it to the complete limit in every situation.” The rest is “micro- adaptation,” he says, the ability to “react quickly to changing conditions.” As the drivers battle in close combat, kissing 200 miles per hour, danger is never far from their consciousness. “We love the rush,” says Webber of F1 drivers. “We love the risk-taking. We don’t want to take unnecessary risks, but we realise we’re travelling very quickly. Pushing the limits, that’s part of it.”

Unlike any other major motor sport, F1 teams are all constructors. They build their cars from the ground up according to a specific Speed Racer Mark Webber Red Bull F1 pg1“formula.” Tens of thousands of man-hours and many millions of dollars go into every car and race. What is the pressure like seconds before a start? “It’s a buzz, a mixture of anxiety and positive tension. You know you’re about to be unleashed into the race. There’s complete isolation. The quiet is surreal.” Then comes the burst of thunder, with 24 cars and some 17,000 horsepower let loose on the track. What is it like to grab that elusive checkered flag? “The most special feeling is when you hear your national anthem,” Webber says, “and the emotion of spraying the bubbly. Trophies don’t mean much, but the emotion of the event and the memories stay with you forever.”

By AJ Baime

Published in Playboy South Africa August 2012