Mark Webber may have inherited the unwanted role of elder statesman amongst the F1 drivers, but insists that has no intention of handing his Red Bull seat to one of his younger rivals just yet.
Echoing comments made in the wake of pre-season testing, the Australian said that he did not feel his age – he will turn 37 this season – and still had enough fire burning within him to take the fight to the likes of Red Bull team-mate Sebastien Vettel and similarly aged rivals such as Lewis Hamilton. Although he has replaced Michael Schumacher as the oldest driver on the grid, Webber is not the most experienced – that accolade falls to Jenson Button – and he insists that he still harbours the ambition of finishing his career in Milton Keynes.
"I never ever expected that it would be such an interesting topic that I would be the oldest on the grid," he told journalists at a sponsor's press conference in the build-up to this weekend's Australian GP, “I don't feel the oldest on the grid - you feel you're the oldest on the grid if you're back on the grid getting blown away, but it's my job to make sure that doesn't happen."
Although he headed Vettel for much of the 2012 campaign, the German's late season revival eventually netted him a third straight title, while Webber faded to sixth in the standings. Despite rumours that he may be dropped after six seasons at Red Bull, the Australian signed another one-year extension to continue his partnership with Vettel into 2013, and would consider doing the same again if the year goes to plan.
"There will be a day where I stop and someone will drive that car,” he conceded, “Finishing my career [at Red Bull] is quite likely, but you never know. The phone might ring tomorrow with something else, [or] maybe the car is not competitive any more…. Let's see what happens."
While Webber clings on to his seat at RBR, the hopeful replacements grow ever more frustrated. While Red Bull protégés such as Daniel Ricciardo, Jean-Eric Vergne and, looking a little further into the future, Antonio Felix da Costa, continually strive to get their hands on a race-winning car, Webber isn't about to hand over the keys that easily.
“[The speculation] comes with the territory when you're in a top team and you're at the back end of your career,” he noted, "The vultures have been on the branches for the last three of four years, that's just the way it is.”