Former F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton has revealed that he 'wouldn't be surprised' to see Red Bull Racing rival Mark Webber walk away from the top flight at the end of the current campaign should the Australian enjoy a successful season at the highest level.
Webber is now in his ninth year on the grand prix grid, but it was only in 2009 that he finally had at his disposal a competitive car with which to fight at the front – and the New South Wales native wasted little time in proving his potential, registering his breakthrough victory at the Nürburgring in Germany and following that up with a second triumph at Interlagos in the penultimate outing in Brazil.
In-between there were moments where the man from Queanbeyan threatened to mount a genuine world championship challenge – something he ostensibly has a chance to do again this year, with the Adrian Newey-designed Red Bull RB6 widely-regarded as one of the very quickest cars in the field – and at 33 years of age and with rumours that rallying refugee Kimi Raikkonen is already being lined up to take his place in 2011 refusing to go away, Hamilton suggests thoughts of imminent retirement could be weighing heavily on Webber's mind.
“I don't know how long he plans to stay in Formula 1, but I get the sense that it's one of the years he wants to finish on top and perhaps call it a day,” McLaren-Mercedes' 2008 title-winner is quoted as having said by the Australian Associated Press
ahead of this weekend's race Down Under. “He has the best chance to end on that high this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if he is considering it.”
Hamilton himself, of course, has no such thoughts of hanging up his helmet for a long time yet, and if he argues that Webber has his best opportunity to-date of winning in front of his home fans in Melbourne eight years on from making his F1 debut in the very same race – finishing a superb fifth for unheralded minnows Minardi and famously enjoying his own moment of glory up on the podium with countryman and team owner Paul Stoddart once the official celebrations had ended – the British ace has somewhat more of a love-hate relationship with Albert Park.
After making his grand prix bow there in 2007, Hamilton ascended the top step of the rostrum in 2008 at the beginning of his successful challenge for the laurels – but then the 2009 edition represented inarguably the nadir of the 25-year-old's career thus far when he was caught deliberately lying to race stewards in an underhand effort to get Jarno Trulli stripped of his third place and inherit the position for himself. The fall-out from the scandal and subsequent global loss of reputation very nearly led to the eleven-time grand prix-winner calling it quits there and then.
“A lot of thoughts went through my mind,” he confessed, “so of course at that moment I thought there was something else I'd rather be doing. I got through it, though, and came out a much stronger individual...that was one of the very tough learning experiences. I always have to learn the hard way.”
One driver Hamilton is hoping to teach a few lessons in 2010, however, is team-mate, compatriot and title-winning successor Jenson Button, and whilst insisting that the pair get on well outside of the cockpit, when the visor comes down, he concedes, 'if the other guy does a better job you have to pull your socks up and do a better job to beat him next time'.