Mark Webber has hinted that contrary to what some may be predicting, he will not be ready to hang up his F1 helmet come the end of the 2011 world championship campaign – admitting that he can 'see myself doing this a bit longer...'
Webber's future has been the subject of speculation within the grand prix paddock for some time, with the ever-candid Australian – currently preparing for his tenth outing in front of his partisan supporters Down Under in Melbourne – having made no bones about the fact that once the fire has stopped burning inside him, he will simply walk away, with no regrets.
Whilst team-mate Sebastian Vettel, chief technical officer Adrian Newey and some 50 other staff have recently had their Red Bull Racing contracts renewed until the end of 2014, Webber remains committed to the energy drinks-backed outfit on just a year-to-year basis, leading to rumours that the team is interested in securing the services of Lewis Hamilton to replace the 34-year-old, who by his own admission is now in the autumn of his F1 career.
RBR team principal Christian Horner has explained that Webber's future at Milton Keynes beyond the forthcoming campaign will be determined by his continuing motivation, desire and competitiveness [see separate story – click here
], and the driver himself has conceded that he will likely conclude his career at Red Bull – but not yet awhile.
“I thought, 'I could see myself doing this a bit longer',” the six-time grand prix-winner told Australian newspaper The Sun-Herald
, revealing that he feels 'sensational' about his future in the sport. “I'm really hungry for it again. It's not like I'd been struggling for motivation, don't get me wrong, but it was a long year last year. If I can be hungry and have the desire, still want to compete and turn up and take these guys on week-in, week-out, yeah [I'll carry on in 2012].”
Meanwhile, as he looks ahead to the F1 2011 curtain-raiser on home turf this weekend, Webber insisted that he will treat the Australian Grand Prix as just any other race, and is bullish about his prospects of success in it off the back of a strong winter testing programme – notwithstanding the likely vagaries of the Melbourne weather and the unpredictable new Pirelli tyres.
“I've got 20 races during the season,” he underlined. “Melbourne is obviously an important race for all the teams, and for me personally – there's probably an added five per cent interest on me to do something – but when the helmet goes on, it doesn't really matter where you are. It's nice to win at any venue.
“It's pretty clear that we'll have some mixed weather this weekend, so we might not get a real understanding of who's where, [but] the normal suspects will still be towards the front. It's always a nervous time for all the teams heading into the first race of the season, but we've had a pretty productive winter. We laid some good foundations down.
“There's no question we've got some very tough rivals, but we're not concerned that we're undercooked in any real area. There's always room for improvement, but we feel as though we're pretty well-prepared.”