Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner has backed Mark Webber to bounce back from a disappointing 2011 F1 campaign in what could be his last year with the team.
Despite annual speculation that the 35-year old Australian could be moving on from Milton Keynes, RBR retains an unchanged pairing for 2012, with Webber again partnering double world champion Sebastian Vettel in what Horner believes is, McLaren notwithstanding, the best line-up in F1.
While Vettel romped to his second title in 2011, however, Webber only scraped into third spot in the standings with victory at the final round in Brazil - a result that did not come without some controversy after the German suffered a mystery gearbox problem.
Despite the obvious frustration of not being able to match his team-mate over the course of the year, however, Horner believes that Webber will be back on form in 2012, particularly having got to grips with the Pirelli tyres.
“Mark has gone away, trained hard through the winter and his enthusiasm has been rejuvenated," the team boss told fans at the Autosport International
show, "I think 2012 could be a very strong year for him.
“It's very difficult going up against a driver of Sebastian's calibre, being matched and measured against somebody of his standard. Mark had a difficult start to the year, but he adapted. He worked hard at it and to understand the tyres in particular. His performances grew throughout the year, and it was great to see him win that final race in Brazil.”
Despite Webber's age contributing to the rumours of his imminent departure from RBR, Horner insisted that his line-up represented the best of both worlds - and warned those with aspirations of stepping into the Australian's shoes not to get their hopes up to soon.
“For us it's a great pairing," he claimed, "There is over a ten-year age difference between the two of them, so they are at different stages of their careers, but they push each other very hard and bring out the best of each other."
Horner's warning was aimed squarely at the new line-up at Scuderia Toro Rosso, where Daniel Ricciardo, in particular, is being tipped at Webber's natural successor.