Mark Webber says the standard of drivers in F1 has fallen since he entered the sport 11 years ago.
Webber, who is quitting F1 to join the World Endurance Championship at the end of the year, believes today’s grid is not as strong as it was in 2002.
“When I was on the grid at the back with Minardi you had [Eddie] Irvine, [Mika] Salo – all those guys had been on podiums,” he told Autosport.
Now he believes “there are a lot of talented guys out there, but a lot are slipping through the net unfortunately. That’s a sad state.”
Webber singled out Sauber reserve driver Robin Frijns as a “phenomenal young talent” who was struggling to find a place in F1 as he did not have any money behind him.
During the off-season race-winners and podium-scorers such as Heikki Kovalainen and Timo Glock lost F1 drives as their teams had to find drivers who could bring backing.
When Webber made his grand prix debut in Melbourne 11 years ago there were nine race-winning drivers on the grid: Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher, Ralf Schumacher, David Coulthard, Juan Pablo Montoya, Olivier Panis, Jacques Villeneuve, Heinz-Harald Frentzen and Eddie Irvine.
At this year’s season-opening race there were also nine former race winners among 22 starters. Webber was one of them, along with Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa, Fernando Alonso, Nico Rosberg, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Pastor Maldonado.
ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).
“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.
“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”
For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.
“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.
“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”
Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.
“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.