Mark Webber has admitted to a feeling of relief that his return to a Formula 1 car went smoothly and without a hitch during testing this week in Jerez, having had to sit out all pre-season preparations so far following his leg-breaking mountain-biking accident on his annual Pure Tasmania charity adventure challenge last November.
Indeed, not only did the Red Bull Racing star encounter no problems acclimatising to the cockpit of the new RB5, but on his first day back in action he lapped second-quickest of the four 2009-spec machines in attendance at the southern Spanish circuit, behind only Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren-Mercedes. Eighty-three laps later and following his right leg's sternest work-out since the end of last season, he professed himself satisfied with progress.
“I woke up feeling great the morning after,” the Aussie wrote in his regular column for the BBC
. “I did more than a race distance and it couldn't have gone much better. The car was reliable and so was I. I have to admit I was pretty relieved.
“There's a lot going through your head anyway because the first test of a new car is a bit nerve-wracking for everybody, not just the driver. In my case, there was the extra complication of how my leg would hold up. It was a pretty bad break when I had the accident eleven weeks ago, and you have to go through some dark tunnels and trust people's judgement.
“I've had good people around me. Roger Cleary, my physio, has been amazing, and my specialist told me before I got out here that my leg would be absolutely functional – that he'd made it do the job I needed it to do. We've done a lot of work to prepare for that, but you never really know until you do it.
“Testing my ankle was the first thing to get out of the way – making sure it was able to modulate the throttle, which is a big thing for my job. The ankle wasn't affected in the accident, but you need the strength to repeatedly do the action, and the lower leg has gone through a bit of trauma so we had to make sure we could do that. I tested that on the installation lap straightaway, and I could slide the car and move around a little bit so that was good.
“The next issue was the bumps and the kerbs. Turn one was a little bit bumpy on the brakes, so I could feel it a little bit but not too much. The overall strength of the leg was fine, and the important thing is that now we know it's not going to hinder me in the car. I discovered that I can drive at 100 per cent, which is pretty amazing, really, when you think about what I've gone through.”
Indeed it is, and Webber's strong comeback form gave the lie to those doubters who have suggested he will struggle to be race-ready in time for the 2009 F1 curtain-raiser, in front of his home fans Down Under in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of next month. The 32-year-old admitted that it had been a fraught and tense few months since his Tasmanian accident, but added that now he is back, he is straight back down to business again.
“Fitness is a concern when you've been out for so long,” the New South Wales native reflected. “I knew I'd lost a bit of aerobic capacity, and F1 cars are also pretty rough on your neck with all the G-forces, but I've done a lot of work on that and it held up really, really well. My general condition in the car was pretty relaxed, and that was encouraging.