Mark Webber has dismissed speculation that he may call time on his Formula One career at the end of the 2010 season, insisting that he is as motivated as ever.
Potential title rival Lewis Hamilton made the unexpected claim about Webber's future in an interview with the Australian Associated Press
[see story here
], but the surprised New South Wales native maintained that the thought of quitting had yet to enter his head.
"I've no intention at all of retiring, whatever kind of season I have," he said in response to the Briton's belief that a successful 2010 could the catalyst for stepping down. "That's Lewis's opinion and he's free to have that - I don't have a big problem with what he's said. I'm very happy at the moment, enjoying driving for the guys that I am driving for. It's a very, very good situation for me at the moment and I'm looking forward to it. I'm very motivated, enjoying my job and looking forward to a great season. That's the way I've always approached every year."
Hamilton's motives for making his views will likely remain a secret, but it is possible that he could have been spurred on by knowing what Webber has gone through to return himself to full fitness after the bike crash that left him with a badly broken leg and fractured shoulder ahead of the 2009 F1 season. The Australian admits that his preparation for last season was arduous, but insisted that he was back on track this year.
"2010 is a different ball game to last year," he confirmed. "Mentally, I didn't really have an off-season last year as I had the big adventure race, which takes a little bit of toll on you in terms of being down there [in Tasmania for] seven days, and then I broke my leg on the last day. Mentally, it is draining to have the winter I had so, coming to the first race, I had a few unanswered questions. The longest run I had done in one hit in the car was 17 laps in testing, and then I was going to go into a grand prix here [in Melbourne].
"There are a lot less concerns for me coming here [this year]. I have done a lot more testing, I have already got a grand prix under my belt and, although there are a few little niggles here and there, they are absolutely nothing compared to what I had. I am in really good shape and I feel good and ready to go for a whole season, not just for this weekend.
"We are well prepared. We don't have to work out when we are going to have surgery in the season and stupid things like that to manage. We have just got to manage going fast."
Coming back from injury and finding that Red Bull Racing had managed to build a race-winning car was sufficient encouragement for Webber to finally end his winless streak in F1, and the Australian is confident that he can add to the victories he took in Germany and Brazil in 2009, even though he performed poorly - by his own high standards - in Bahrain earlier this month.
"I have always been pretty critical of my own mistakes and Bahrain certain was a poor Q3 for me," he recalled. "It was pretty challenging conditions for most guys, but I did a poor lap and you don't want to make a habit of that, so I am pretty keen on Saturday to have a clean go at it and, as long as I have done my best, then I can be happy.
"If my best is like it was in Germany and that was enough on the day, then we will see what happens. But anything can happen. It is an early part of the weekend and we will see how the car performs on Friday and then try and build the weekend from there, as we did in Germany."