Inarguably the in-form driver of the 2009 F1 world championship as the circus prepares to resume from its mid-summer break in Valencia next weekend, Mark Webber can go on to lift the ultimate trophy at season's end – that is the view of Australia's first-ever world champion, Sir Jack Brabham.
From the last four grands prix in Turkey, Britain, Germany and Hungary, Webber has notched up 32 points – an 80 per cent hit rate – compared to 24 for Red Bull Racing team-mate Sebastian Vettel, 19 for long-time world championship leader Jenson Button, 18 for Williams ace Nico Rosberg, 14 for injured Ferrari star Felipe Massa, ten for reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton and just nine for both Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and Button's Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello.
Ten of the New South Wales native's total came in one fell swoop, when in storming to an imperious victory at the Nürburgring last month – his breakthrough triumph in the top flight after 130 starts – Webber became the first of his countrymen to mount the top step of the rostrum at the highest level since Alan Jones back in 1981. Indeed, only three Australians – Brabham, Jones and now Webber – have achieved the feat, and now the sport's oldest surviving world champion at 83 believes the man from Queanbeyan has the potential to take the crown back Down Under again for the first time in 29 years.
“I certainly believe that Mark Webber can go all the way and win the world championship...providing the car holds up” 'Black Jack' – knighted three decades ago for his services to motorsport – told the Australian Associated Press
on the subject of his 'very good friend'.
“It's fantastic to see Webber up there; he's doing a great job. You know, we've given Mark as much encouragement as we could as he's come along, and it's lovely to see him doing well.”
Following his sixth podium finish from ten races this season in Hungary last time out, Webber has closed the gap separating him from the ailing Button atop the title standings to just 18.5 points with 70 remaining up for grabs, and – perhaps even more crucially – overtook Vettel to be the Briton's closest challenger as the decisive phase of the campaign comes ever-more into view. The 32-year-old has cautioned, however, that it is still 'a bit early' to be talking up his chances of championship glory just yet.
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that Brabham – a three-time F1 World Champion, who claimed the laurels in 1959, 1960 and 1966, in the latter year becoming the only driver in history ever to do so behind the wheel of one of his own eponymously-named cars – is undergoing thrice-weekly dialysis treatment in hospital as a result of kidney failure. The 14-time grand prix-winner admitted that he has had to apply the brakes a touch of late.
“Unfortunately, I don't get the time to do the things I want anymore,” he told British newspaper the Daily Telegraph
. “I really only get two days a week where I can do anything. I am a dialysis patient and it takes five hours, three days a week. I have really had my wings clipped.
“The last Formula 1 event I went to was in Melbourne a couple of years ago. I used to go every year, but unfortunately my condition doesn't let me. I am not complaining, though. Aside from my kidneys, I am in good health.
“I had ambitions to keep on achieving things in my life, but I am resigned to the fact I have to be in hospital three days a week. I can't rush out and do things anymore, but I have accepted that.”