By Tatiana Ramil
SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Mark Webber drove out of Formula One with the wind in his hair, a smile on his face and Red Bull overalls soaked in champagne after one final podium celebration at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix on Sunday.
The Australian finished runner-up, equalling his best result of a year dominated by race winner and quadruple world champion team mate Sebastian Vettel, at Interlagos in his 215th and last grand prix.
The voice of Red Bull team principal Christian Horner, himself only three years older than his 37-year-old driver, came over the radio as Webber crossed the line for his final competitive lap.
"One more lap Mark, enjoy it," he said, and the chisel-jawed veteran made sure he savoured every moment - for once concentrating on driving slowly rather than fast.
After taking the chequered flag, Webber removed his helmet halfway through his slowing down lap to show his face to the crowd and marshals and allow himself to hear the applause and feel the breeze.
"In this sport it's not always you have the personal touch," he told BBC television. "We have helmets on all the time so they don't always see a driver in a Formula One car without a helmet.
"It was nice to get it off, see the marshals, see the fans, it was a really nice thing for me just to experience. I heard a lot of noises I don't normally hear with the helmet on."
Webber, famously straight-talking ever since his astonishing debut in 2002 when he finished fifth for tiny Minardi in his home race, has always been one for the direct, no-nonsense approach both in and outside the sport and Sunday was no exception.
The winner of nine grands prix in 12 seasons, including two Monaco Grand Prix victories but none this year, said the hardest part of the day had been just steeling himself to get into the car at the start.
Welcomed to the garage before the race to the sounds of 'Waltzing Matilda', with the Australian flag hung over his car and 'Thank You Mark' written on his pit board, the last farewell was always going to be emotional even if Webber was a long way from reaching for the tissues.
"I was quite overcome with some emotion, to be honest," he said. "Just that moment of helmets on, stepping in the car...I did it but it was actually the strongest emotion I've probably had all day."
On the podium he joined Vettel, who graciously insisted his team mate be interviewed first, and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, one of his best friends in the paddock.
"To finish on the podium with those two guys, they have been the best of this generation and I've raced them a lot...meant a lot to me in showing I could still drive well at the end of my career," said Webber.
"I'm over the worst of it today in terms of the roller-coaster of emotions, I'm happy to leave here tonight. And yeah, that's it."
Before the race the Australian left no doubt he was more than ready for his next challenge racing Le Mans sportscars with Porsche and was leaving at the right time.
The man who might have won the championship in 2010, and who leaves with 42 podium positions and 13 poles, recognised that what he might have lacked in outright speed he had made up for with sheer hard work and determination.
"Maybe I did not have the most absolute natural flair and talent but I knew that if I grafted and worked hard I'd soon get awesome results," he said in a Red Bull review of his career.
"I also smashed a lot of guys who had more talent than me because they didn't work as hard as me," added the former Williams and Jaguar racer.
"I learned that about myself. How important it was to graft and just get my head down. I've been doing that for most of my career.
"The results I've had in F1 have been great but it's about the journey as well and I've had an amazing journey."
(Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Tony Jimenez)