The 'prodigious talent' of Sebastian Vettel is set to make 2009 'a crucial year' for Mark Webber, argues Christian Horner – but the Red Bull Racing team principal is confident that the 'dedicated, focussed and hugely competitive' Aussie will prove to be up to the task.
Webber has seen off every one of his Formula 1 team-mates to-date, from Nick Heidfeld and Nico Rosberg to 13-time grand prix-winner David Coulthard, but he arguably has his greatest challenge yet awaiting him this season, following the arrival at Milton Keynes of the sport's new youngest-ever winner, Sebastian Vettel – a driver tipped in many quarters as a future world champion, and one who Horner suggests was almost single-handedly responsible for Scuderia Toro Rosso surging ahead of its 'parent' outfit in the latter stages of the 2008 campaign.
“I think the most significant factor over the second half of last year, and certainly from what we've seen in pre-season testing, was the impact of Sebastian Vettel,” the Englishman told Crash.net Radio
of his new charge. “That just should not be underestimated – in essentially the same car he scored 35 points. He's a very prodigious talent that looks as if he's got a great future ahead of him.
“Obviously he's been a member of the Red Bull family for several years now, so he's reasonably well-known to the team and he had tested for the team even prior to the start of last year. He's an intelligent young guy that has obviously a tremendous amount of ability but a very clear-thinking mind. He's settled in with no issues at all and has looked very strong throughout pre-season testing.”
That much is indisputable, and if Webber's pre-season preparations by contrast were disrupted somewhat by his leg-breaking mountain-biking accident sustained during his annual charity adventure Pure Tasmania Challenge towards the end of last year, Horner is confident the New South Wales native will be back to form in front of his home fans Down Under this weekend – and that he will provide Vettel with a stern challenge throughout the campaign.
“I don't think he'll be at absolutely 100 per cent fitness for Melbourne,” the 35-year-old former racer contended, “but he'll certainly be 90 per cent. It won't inhibit him within the car at all. He's made a remarkable recovery since breaking his leg quite badly last November.
“He's a dedicated and focussed individual that's hugely competitive, and he knows that this year is very much a crucial year in his career because he's got quite a challenge from the other car. It's a big year for Mark. His winter has obviously been compromised from a physical preparation point-of-view, but he's done all the mileage in the car and I'm sure we'll see him up there in Melbourne.
“I think we've got a very good balance within the team of youth and experience. Mark is a renowned qualifying specialist and that will be a challenge for Sebastian, and I think they'll bring the best out of each other.”
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