Red Bull boss Christian Horner challenges Mark Webber to keep on delivering in 2013
Aussie driver under pressure after criticism from Helmut Marko
By Pete Gill
Last Updated: 13/03/13 11:49am
While Webber's future has been an ever-present topic for paddock gossipers throughout the last few seasons, speculation that the Australian - who signed a one-year extension with Red Bull last summer following his victory at the British GP - could be entering his final campaign with the team in 2013 was ratcheted up a significant level in January when Helmut Marko, the company's motorsport advisor and a close confidant of owner Dietrich Mateschitz, launched a withering attack on the 36-year-old.
"It seems to me that Webber has on average two races per year where he is unbeatable, but he can't maintain this form throughout the year. And as soon as his prospects start to look good in the world championship, he has a little trouble with the pressure that this creates," the outspoken Marko told The Red Bulletin, Red Bull's own in-house magazine.
"In comparison with Seb's rising form, it seems to me that Mark's form somehow flattens out. Then, if some technical mishap occurs, like with the alternator for example, he falls relatively easily into a downward spiral."
Horner, though, has insisted that Webber will be retained so long as there is no regression in his level of performance over the coming months.
"The last three years have apparently been Mark's last, yet he has been retained by the team because of what he has done in the car, and again the same rules apply this year," Horner told The Daily Mail.
"We want the strongest pairing and Mark has contributed significantly to our constructors' world championships over the last three years, and even came close to winning his own title in 2010.
"Mark has been employed by the team to do the best job he can and he knows what's expected of him. There are an awful lot of drivers who would like to be sat in a Red Bull car but Mark is there on merit, and while he delivers for the team he will have that place."
One of those drivers apparently aspiring to take Webber's place alongside Vettel is his compatriot Daniel Ricciardo.
Having failed to make a vivid impression during 2012, the Toro Rosso driver is gearing up for what it is likely to be a make-or-break year for his F1 career and is aware that only a resounding head-to-head defeat of current team-mate Jean-Eric Vergne will be sufficient to put him in the frame for a promotion.
"The fight is firstly with the team-mate, you've got to try and beat him convincingly - I think that will start to turn some heads - and then see what happens from there," the 23-year-old told Sky Sports News on Wednesday.
"Obviously we want to consistently get more points this year but try and [also I need] do the best I can and that has to be finishing ahead of the Frenchman alongside me."
However, it's the performances of Webber when measured against those of Vettel which are likely to hold sway when Red Bull consider their options beyond 2013.
"The difficulty for Mark is he is constantly judged against a young man in the other car who has achieved so much," commented Horner.
"Mark's being constantly measured against a driver that is, in my view, the best of a generation and that makes it harder for him. But at the same time Mark measures the opportunity of being measured against the best.
"He has also demonstrated on his day he can be unbeatable. Last year he drove very well, and if he can get off to a good start and build up some momentum this season that will be important for his campaign.
"Above all, if we didn't think he could still do it then we wouldn't have taken him for another year with the team."