Mark Webber has told his Red Bull Racing team to get a car ready for him to test as soon as the holiday season hiatus and the RB5 is ready to hit the track in southern Spain.
The Australian has been sidelined since breaking both bones in his lower right leg in a road accident during his own 'adventure race' in Tasmania in November, but insists that he will be ready to slide into the cockpit of RBR's 2009 challenger when it is launched at Jerez early next month. He expects to be able to throw away his crutches as early as next week, and has already been behind the wheel of his road car.
"The leg is starting to get a bit more strength back in it [and], hopefully, I will be walking quite soon," he wrote in his latest column for the BBC
, "Once that happens, the whole curve accelerates quite quickly. The intensity of my rehab will start to increase as I get more confident with my leg.
"I have been doing a lot of pool work, static bike and a lot of specific exercises to keep the leg firing through when I could not put weight on it. That has all gone to plan, no complications, which is always nice. I have lost a sizeable chunk of my aerobic fitness, but I am very confident that come the last few tests I will be in very good shape again."
The 32-year old returned to his English home before Christmas and reckons that he could have been driving on the public roads some time ago, but felt that there was no point taking unnecessary risks with his rehabilitation. Instead, it was Sunday when he ventured out for the first time since being knocked off his bicycle during the annual Mark Webber Pure Tasmania Challenge, but he expects to be fit enough to drive the RB5 in a couple of weeks when Red Bull Racing takes the wraps off its latest contender at Jerez on 9 February.
"It is not very good being dependent on other people, so just driving a car for the first time on Sunday was a nice, small, step," he admitted, "I've got another four weeks before my first test in the new car at Jerez. I'm going to learn a lot when I drive the car for the first time [and] I am extremely confident things will be right but, if I have to adjust a few things if I get any soreness in the leg, then I will."
An early return to testing will be vital for the Australian, as F1 enters its new technical era with a raft of changes to the way cars are designed and expected to perform, and he has already missed the final sessions of 2008, where teams were beginning to experiment with the new aero rules and the return of slick tyres. Webber's new team-mate, Sebastian Vettel, was expected to bear the bulk of the workload, but the Australian is clearly keen not to allow the highly-rated German too much of a head-start in what could be a critical season for both.
"I'm looking forward to having Sebastian as a team-mate," he insisted, "On paper, you would have to agree with those pundits who are saying he will be my toughest so far. He had a very good season last year.
"At this level, you want to be comparing yourself against good guys and he is one of the bright young guys in F1 and it's good that Red Bull have got him. I am not worried about the time Sebastian has spent with the team over the winter while I have been recovering, [as] I know that the momentum you build up starts from Melbourne onwards. If we end up pushing each other hard, that is how it always has been and how it always will be. Hopefully, we can get an absolute truck-load of points for the team."
Aided by a later than usual start to the 2009 race calendar - the Australian Grand Prix is not until 29 March - Webber will aim to increase his potential during the three post-launch tests that RBR has scheduled before the opening round. However much he manages to accomplish, though, he certainly won't be blaming his injury for any failure to perform in front of his home crowd.
"I do not think I will be disadvantaged as a result of breaking my leg, and I can tell you now that I will not be using it as an excuse in Melbourne," he insisted, "I will be there ready to go."