Sir Jackie Stewart has claimed that Mark Webber
must have battled the pain barrier in ensuring that he was on the grid for last year's Australian Grand Prix, and praised the national hero's courage in returning from the road accident that hospitalised him in the winter of 2008-09.
Webber, who returns to home soil for this weekend's second F1 round of 2010, was left with a badly broken leg and shoulder after colliding with a 4x4 while on the cycling phase of his eponymous adventure race in Tasmania, and faced a race against time to even get back into the cockpit for the start of the 2009 campaign. However, after undergoing radical treatment, including the use of an ice chamber, the Australian was back in action in testing, but completed the season with pins holding his bones in place.
"He has come back from more suffering, from more pain, than any racing driver I know of," Stewart, who witnessed the tragic side of motorsport on a regular basis during his spell in the top flight, told Melbourne's Herald Sun
newspaper, "To come back from and win two grands prix in the same year...
"We live less than 5km apart [in England] and he came up for dinner so many times, but [my wife] Helen could hardly even look at his leg. The results he got last year were certainly deserved. Whatever he went through in all those operations, he was still on bikes and in the gym - he has been through more pain barriers than anyone else I know."
After a seemingly fruitless pursuit of success in F1, Webber finally broke his duck with victory in the German Grand Prix
in July, and then doubled his tally with a second win in Brazil, although that achievement was largely overshadowed by Jenson Button
clinching the world championship title. Now fully fit, with the metalwork removed from his injured leg, Stewart believes that the Australian should be a force again this season.
"Webber is driving today better than he has ever in his career," the Scot insisted, "He has the key to the door, he knows how to win now. He dominated the first race that he won and he dominated the next race that he won ... that was very impressive.
"I think that Red Bull, right now, is the best car on the track. If I had to put my money down for the end of the season, I would go for Ferrari
but, right now, it's Red Bull."