Mark Webber has admitted to a feeling of relief that his return to a Formula 1 car went smoothly and without a hitch during testing this week in Jerez, having had to sit out all pre-season preparations so far following his leg-breaking mountain-biking accident on his annual Pure Tasmania charity adventure challenge last November.

Indeed, not only did the Red Bull Racing star encounter no problems acclimatising to the cockpit of the new RB5, but on his first day back in action he lapped second-quickest of the four 2009-spec machines in attendance at the southern Spanish circuit, behind only Heikki Kovalainen in the McLaren-Mercedes. Eighty-three laps later and following his right leg's sternest work-out since the end of last season, he professed himself satisfied with progress.

"I woke up feeling great the morning after," the Aussie wrote in his regular column for the BBC. "I did more than a race distance and it couldn't have gone much better. The car was reliable and so was I. I have to admit I was pretty relieved.

"There's a lot going through your head anyway because the first test of a new car is a bit nerve-wracking for everybody, not just the driver. In my case, there was the extra complication of how my leg would hold up. It was a pretty bad break when I had the accident eleven weeks ago, and you have to go through some dark tunnels and trust people's judgement.

"I've had good people around me. Roger Cleary, my physio, has been amazing, and my specialist told me before I got out here that my leg would be absolutely functional - that he'd made it do the job I needed it to do. We've done a lot of work to prepare for that, but you never really know until you do it.

"Testing my ankle was the first thing to get out of the way - making sure it was able to modulate the throttle, which is a big thing for my job. The ankle wasn't affected in the accident, but you need the strength to repeatedly do the action, and the lower leg has gone through a bit of trauma so we had to make sure we could do that. I tested that on the installation lap straightaway, and I could slide the car and move around a little bit so that was good.

"The next issue was the bumps and the kerbs. Turn one was a little bit bumpy on the brakes, so I could feel it a little bit but not too much. The overall strength of the leg was fine, and the important thing is that now we know it's not going to hinder me in the car. I discovered that I can drive at 100 per cent, which is pretty amazing, really, when you think about what I've gone through."

Indeed it is, and Webber's strong comeback form gave the lie to those doubters who have suggested he will struggle to be race-ready in time for the 2009 F1 curtain-raiser, in front of his home fans Down Under in the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne at the end of next month. The 32-year-old admitted that it had been a fraught and tense few months since his Tasmanian accident, but added that now he is back, he is straight back down to business again.

"Fitness is a concern when you've been out for so long," the New South Wales native reflected. "I knew I'd lost a bit of aerobic capacity, and F1 cars are also pretty rough on your neck with all the G-forces, but I've done a lot of work on that and it held up really, really well. My general condition in the car was pretty relaxed, and that was encouraging.

"I've had no experience of this type of injury, but I know what the cars demand of the driver so I knew what I needed to work on. I've done that and it was a good day, and we will probably tackle the rest of the winter testing as if I never broke my leg. Sebastian Vettel, my team-mate, and I will split the tests down the middle, because the important thing is to get both drivers commenting on the car in the build-up to the first race."

As to the potential of Adrian Newey's new baby, finally, Webber was in similarly positive mood, hopeful that the car upon which everybody at Milton Keynes is pinning their hopes for a breakthrough race victory will prove to go as well as it looks once performance testing begins in earnest and the lap times begin to tumble.

"In terms of a roll-out, this test has gone pretty well," the man from Queanbeyan summarised. "First impressions of the car are pretty good. It's a beautiful car to look at - and it's not easy to build a beautiful car with these regulations. They say if it looks quick, it is quick, and hopefully the stopwatch will bear that out.

"Adrian Newey, our chief technical officer, and his design team have come up with some interesting solutions to the new rules, which are very demanding, and there are many different paths you can go down because it's such an open slate.

"We have work to do. We're not the quickest yet, but we're certainly not that slow. We're pretty encouraged, but it would be suicide to predict anything now. It's impossible to know who's running KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems), what fuel loads and so on, and most people will have upgrades for the first race which will switch things around a bit. What is obvious, though, is that the McLaren is very quick.

"There's a lot less downforce than we had last year; the cars are probably as much as three seconds slower. It's difficult to know yet whether the rules have achieved the aim of making overtaking easier. I got reasonably close to Kazuki Nakajima's Williams on Wednesday and then he just pitted. Realistically, there won't be answers to all these questions until we get to Melbourne."



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