Mark Webber’s 1st WEC season to end in a very familiar place

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The World Endurance Championship wraps up its 2014 season this coming weekend at Interlagos with a six-hour race, and that will also mark the end of Mark Webber’s first campaign in the series.

Webber, now driving for the Porsche LMP1 factory team, knows the Sao Paulo track very well from his previous life in Formula One. The Australian took two of his nine career Grand Prix wins there, and also ended his F1 tenure there in 2013.

But now, he’s about to see the legendary Brazilian track in a whole new light.

“I always enjoyed driving there in Formula One,” he said in a Porsche release. “With the Grand Prix wins in 2009 and 2011, I have some very special memories of the place. The atmosphere is electric with the fans being very close to the track, different to modern circuits where the grandstands are farther away.

“At 4.3 kilometers, it means it is a small circuit and the WEC is a huge grid. It is a little bit of a shame they resurfaced the track, because the bumps were a special challenge that is taken away now. I think the 919 will like the track and, hopefully, we can push for our best result of the year there.”

Webber and No. 20 Porsche 919 Hybrid co-drivers Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley are coming off their third podium run of the season in the most recent WEC race in Bahrain.

That race also marked the first time that both sides of the Porsche 919 Hybrid program landed on a WEC podium, as the No. 14 team (Romain Dumas/Neel Jani/Marc Lieb) finished second.

Now, Porsche has one more opportunity in 2014 to take the next step: Winning.

“We can be proud of having achieved three pole positions and five podium finishes with such a complex race car in such strong competition,” said Porsche’s LMP1 head, Fritz Enzinger. “Even more important for the future: The way we improved race by race shows that we’ve got the structures right. This goes for the technical concept, as well as for the driver line-up and the operational side with a team growing so well together.

“We have learned from every situation and tried our utmost to reduce the competition’s advantage in terms of experience. In case a small opportunity would open up to climb on the next and final step of the podium in Brazil, we want to be ready to take it.”

All of the Porsche LMP1 drivers have been announced today as confirmed to continue their current roles in 2015. Additionally, the marque says that it will field a third 919 Hybrid for next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans (June 13-14) and, in a tune-up for that race, the WEC event at Spa-Francorchamps (May 2); Porsche says no decisions have yet been made regarding a driver line-up for the third car.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.