"There are lots of people who will wake up today and won't be able to wash themselves, or do the mundane, everyday things we take for granted. I think about that constantly. You almost feel guilty that you're doing what you enjoy."
Not your typical racing driver, Mark Webber. Formula One is an insular sport, populated by athletes who tend to have little grasp of the world around them. Where most adolescent males spend their teenage years having fun, young racing drivers are usually hunched over a kart. By the time they reach adulthood, their conversational range tends to be restricted to understeer, oversteer, tyre compounds and fuel mixtures. Throw in a question about politics and they will respond with a blank look or a shrug.
Webber, who turns 34 this month, is the opposite, He grew up in Queanbeyan, Australia, about 15km from Canberra, and had what he describes as a "normal" upbringing. He follows politics and football, and is deeply involved in charity events, especially those that raise money for people who have suffered life-changing injuries. "The news was always on TV at home, because my dad is very old-fashioned like that," he said. "So I was aware of the world around us. I suppose Ann [Neale, his partner] might have a bit of an influence nowadays, too, because at home we try to have decent conversations that aren't just about motor racing.
"I wouldn't describe myself as cultured or religious - I'm just curious about stuff. I think it's normal to be passionate about other sports, for instance, and at the moment I have a real interest in what Britain's Ministry of Defence is up to in Afghanistan." And does he ever broach such topics during race weekends? He smiled and said: "I've never been wholly comfortable in the F1 paddock, to be honest. Don't get me wrong, I have some good friends within the sport, but there are also a few shallow people who get above themselves pretty quickly."
Webber's recent victory in the Hungarian Grand Prix - his fourth of the campaign, two more than any rival - gave him a four-point championship lead, with seven of this season's 19 races remaining. It's his ninth season in the series, but his first serious run at the title. His form has surprised many, but the clues to his speed have always been there. During his rookie campaign in 2002, he often coaxed his Minardi to perform above its natural level, including scoring points on his debut when he finished fifth at the Australian Grand Prix.
He occasionally used to stick a Jaguar quite close to the front of the grid, too, only for the sport's natural order to be restored on a Sunday. It was much easier to perform the extraordinary over one lap than it was to sustain it for 50, but people still mistook it as a sign he could not race. His alliance with Williams - a no-nonsense team in his own mould - promised much, but lasted for just two largely fruitless seasons. He was branded a complainer when he left, but in reality he was simply pointing out a few harsh home truths - and Sir Frank Williams has subsequently acknowledged as much.
And no matter what car he has driven, he has always been ultra-quick in the rain - motor racing's great leveller. So why does he feel he has been underrated? "It probably comes from my days in the junior categories," he said. "I did well back then, but didn't have the phenomenal career that some enjoyed. F1 is a greater challenge, though: it is much more intense and involves a lot more detail, which suits my approach.
"I'm very lucky that Australia has some sensational sportsmen and women from whom I've been able to draw inspiration. Look at what Mick Doohan [the five-time Moto GP World Champion] achieved in motorcycle racing, for example, and the way he kept bouncing back from injury. I could see how driven he was and I've always felt the same. "It was very impressive when Michael Schumacher used to win 10 or 12 races or whatever en route to the F1 championship, but was it that much of a challenge? I have a very low boredom threshold and like it when something is a bit testing."
Webber's Red Bull-Renault has been competitive at every type of racetrack this season and that pattern is unlikely to alter, least of all at the season finale in Abu Dhabi on November 14. Red Bull took the top two spots at Yas Marina Circuit last year, with Webber finishing behind Sebastian Vettel, his teammate. Of the fixtures that remain, Korea is an unknown quantity and Monza - with its cocktail of long straights and slow corners - is least suited to the RB6 chassis' appetite for fast, flowing curves.
The rest should be perfect Red Bull territory, although Webber takes nothing for granted. "There are still lots of chapters to be written," he said. "The top five drivers are separated by only 20 points, which is absolutely nothing given this year's scoring system." Webber has always maintained that he will not hang around in F1 just for the sake of being there, but he is committed to race for Red Bull until at least the end of 2011.
"This business isn't a question of trying to make history, but about giving it your best shot every time," he said. "You need to maintain that consistent desire: if ever you stop caring about the way you perform, it's probably time to do something else." In the longer term, there will be other adventures in different spheres - events such as the Pure Tasmania Challenge, a charity-raising fusion of kayaking, trekking and mountain biking he ran from 2003 until 2008.
"I ask a lot of questions of myself outside motorsport," he said. "I've done many things beyond my comfort zone, but it teaches you stuff about yourself and I really enjoy that." So what's next, climbing Mount Everest? "That would be nice," he said, "but I'd need to see how my body reacts to mountaineering. The highest exposure I've had to altitude is 4,000 metres and there are a few clues that suggest mountains might not be my thing. My hands get cold too quickly, so minus 20 wouldn't be ideal.
"Paddling from Australia to New Zealand might be good, though. I need to come up with something challenging and rewarding that enables me to raise funds for good causes. I'm motivated to help people who have suffered life-changing injuries. Whatever I do, I'd just like it to make a difference." email@example.com