Mark Webber turns attention to 2012 Formula One season

 

Only a week has passed since Formula One packed up for the year in Brazil, and while Red Bull's Mark Webber is "putting his feet up" after an arduous season the Australian's thoughts have already turned to the 2012 season-opener in Melbourne.

Webber, whose thrilling and occasionally acrimonious tussle with Sebastian Vettel was a highlight of the 2010 championship, was completely eclipsed by his Red Bull team mate in 2011 as the German successfully defended his title with four races to spare.

Despite a creditable season, finishing third in the driver standings, Webber managed just one win, taking the chequered flag at the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix after his team mate's car suffered a reliability problem.

Some of the gloss was taken off that win when Red Bull moved to deny suspicions Vettel's gearbox problem had been concocted to gift the Australian a morale-boosting victory at the end of a barren season.

The win was, nonetheless, "just the tonic" to re-ignite the competitive fires, Webber told Reuters, even if it had been aided by his team mate's misfortune.

"I think that (the victory) was brewing off the back of a few events where, on the surface it might not have looked that I might have been challenging, but there were certain things coming that I was getting more confident about," the 35-year-old said in a telephone interview from Australia's island state of Tasmania.

"Yes, Seb (Vettel) had to manage an issue but irrespective of that, you still need to pounce and capitalise on other people's misfortunes. That's motor sport at the end of the day.

"It's good to have our feet up a little bit, it's a long, long season as we all know. But to be honest I probably wouldn't have it any other way.

"I still absolutely love my racing and I'm really looking forward to, it's 100 days apparently before we get back to Melbourne, so looking forward to getting back in the car and racing."

The Australian was speaking as he prepared for his annual Mark Webber Tasmania Challenge, a five-day cross-country event which starts on Wednesday and helps raise funds for disadvantaged youth and endangered local wildlife.

Webber's idea of having his "feet up" has included a 6.5 km fun run through a hilly course around the picture-postcard port of Hobart on Sunday, then having a photo-shoot while abseiling on a sheer rock face at a national park on Monday.

Elite and rookie athletes will compete in teams of two in kayaking, mountain biking and trekking as part of the challenge, but it is not clear whether Webber will participate in the mountain bike part after two serious accidents.

The first crash at the end of 2008 broke his leg and shoulder, hampering the start of his next F1 season, while the second in 2010 left him driving with a fractured shoulder for the last four races of the season as his title hopes gradually slipped away.

Despite the mishaps, Webber said he was thrilled to see others push themselves and survive to tell the tale.

"It's a very important thing for people to go through in life, to have respect for something you're about to do and get the most out of it and lift the bar for themselves a little bit," he said of the event.

"Obviously there's some adrenalin involved and that's what people get out of bed for to enjoy that sort of stuff and do things they haven't done before.

"I'm obviously the same, not just when I'm driving the car, I like to take some risks but (also) making the right decisions for myself knowing that my proper career is racing cars!"

Plain-spoken and ultra-competitive, Webber, who will turn 36 next August, remains contracted with Red Bull until the end of 2012, but bridles at suggestions he might content himself with scratching out the odd race win in his career's sunset.

A question about 2012 likely being his last chance for a world title extracted the most reluctant of agreements.

"The next most important race is Melbourne and next year will be different to this year, because that's just the way I'm sure things will go," he said.

"I'm very, very optimistic and positive that I'll have a very, very strong season and that's what I'm going to look forward to. I'm still driving very, very well.

"It's an extremely fine line before you start to unlock a few other things that can make your season go from good, which was this year, to great, and that's what I need to be able to try and do."

Reuters

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