The years will go quicker than you can ever imagine and will take you to the heights of Formula One and within one race of claiming the World Championship. It will introduce you to people and opportunities that will shape and influence you in everything you do. As you already know, even getting to Formula One has been extremely difficult; it’s already a huge change from 1997 when Aussie rugby union legend David Campese stepped in to loan you some money so you could continue racing in British Formula Three!
Remember the times aged six when you used to ride your dirt bike on the farm in Australia, commentating to yourself about being in races with your heroes? And the times when go-karting with incredible dreams and ambitions of one day visiting a famous track in Europe like Silverstone or Monaco, let alone the thrill of racing on one? You will live out all of these dreams and more, with memories of racing with some of the best in the business like Michael Schumacher and Fernando Alonso in your mind forever. Make sure you enjoy every moment.
When you line up for your debut Grand Prix in Australia with Minardi in 2002, aged 25, you have it all to learn but a challenge is not something you will ever shy away from. As you become older and wiser, you will begin to realise there were times when you would have liked to have done things a bit differently but it’s all part of the learning curve and there’s no rewind button!
The nerves and homesickness you felt when moving to Europe as a small fish in a big pond have already disappeared, but don’t forget the people who didn’t believe you could make it. . Turn it into a positive and use it to fuel the fire.
All the difficulties are just part of the ride. Whether it is the dangerous accidents – some your fault and some not – or the ginormous challenge of learning how to beat people at the highest level consistently, embrace the task at hand and get amongst it from the start.
And the biggest advice I can give to you is don’t be afraid to utilize the experts around you from the very start of your career. On the technical side, try and get more out of the resources that you have available to you at a much younger age. It is really hard to get that wisdom early, but not impossible.
You will always have good relationships with so many people you work with but play to their strengths which in turn will benefit your performance. It is really important and comes with experience but working with great people will help get the best out of you. There will be people with more talent but they will never figure out how to do this and won’t even have a career in F1.
Of course you won’t win every race you enter and you will have some headwind along the way which you need to deal with in the best possible way. Use every training session to squeeze everything possible out of yourself and that will be the secret to having a long career. Keep your emotions level and in check, being sensible with the absolute highs and dealing with the absolute lows in a measured way – there will regularly be both.
Some of the best times in your career will be at Red Bull Racing. After a tough period at Williams, grab this new opportunity with both hands and make the most of the honest and open relationship with David Coulthard, who you will learn a hell of a lot from and help to build the team with while becoming great mates away from the track too.
A certain mountain biking accident early on won’t help! You will be pretty second-hand and far too unfit to be hanging onto a GP drive lying in the hospital bed in 2008 after breaking your leg badly at your own charity event in Australia, but the team will stick by you. Dietrich Mateschitz will give you peace of mind and tell you Red Bull is right behind you while ensuring you have the best medical care possible which will help you return in time for the ‘09 season. His patience and loyalty is something you will never, ever forget.
You will recover and go on to get your first pole position and win your first Formula One race in Germany in 2009 before adding a further eight victories, 12 poles and 42 podiums along the way to a grand total of 215 Grands Prix. 2010 will be a special year that, ultimately, will end in your biggest disappointment after leading the Championship by 16 points with three races to go, before losing out in the title decider in Abu Dhabi. Be very proud of the achievement though as you put yourself in contention in a lot of races and drove very well the whole year. Your teammate, Sebastian Vettel, will lead the Championship for one race and win the title – that is the way racing goes sometimes.
Although it will be a big call when you decide to hang up your F1 helmet at the end of 2013, it’s definitely the right decision especially as you will have been eyeing up something to reignite your fire after 12 years on the F1 treadmill. Perhaps you never would have imagined you’d be joining a sports car team again after Le Mans ’99 but you will sign up with the brand new Porsche LMP1 programme and will have an amazing three years. You’ll be surprised how much you enjoy sharing a car with teammates again – you’ll build some great friendships and walk away with a Drivers’ World Championship under your belt.
Then, despite still feeling young and having a huge amount of knowledge and experience to draw upon, you will step away from the cockpit for the final time. You will be bowing out when you’re still driving well and enjoying it but it’s the right decision. It might sound baffling to you now but there will come a time when lap times just aren’t as important to you anymore.
Lastly, and probably most importantly, don’t ever forget to treat people with respect and race fairly throughout your career. Always. The way you were brought up by your family should never change. You will want to retire without there being a single person you can’t shake hands with and say that we put it all out there and that it was all done in the correct way. It is important that all the trophies you will win and have at home have been won fairly. Don’t forget your roots, Mark, you will always be a country boy who really just loves to go racing.