Mark Webber has rebuffed the latest round of retirement rumours, with the Australian telling the media that picking the optimal time to hang up the keys will be extremely difficult.
The nine-time Grand Prix winner, at 36 years of age, will be the oldest driver on the 2012 grid when he straps himself into his Red Bull Racing challenger for the season-opening Australian Grand Prix in March. It will be his twelfth season in Formula 1 and his seventh with Red Bull Racing.
In an interview published in the latest edition of the new GP International magazine, he admitted that he was fearful of “pulling the plug too early” or remaining in the sport too long.
Webber was in the championship hunt midway through the 2012 season after claiming victory at the Monaco and British Grands Prix, but his results tanked after he was re-signed by the Milton Keynes team for another season, causing him to slip to sixth in the Drivers’ Championship standings. By contrast, team-mate Sebastian Vettel swept through to claim a championship hat-trick late in the season.
Choosing the right time to call it quits, Webber, admits, will be tough.
“I haven’t been there yet, but this is going to be a very, very difficult moment, no question about it,” he said.
“I suppose it’s just about getting the timing right… not pulling the plug too early, knowing you have more to give of yourself, or going too long and not being quick enough or struggling to do the things you used to be able to do. That can become an issue as well.”
And as he approached his late thirties, he admits that he needs to back up the experience and knowledge he has gained since his F1 debut with Minardi in 2002, and translate that into competitiveness in the autumn of his career.
“Wisdom keeps carrying on, but the sharpness eventually drops off,” he added.
“You never stop learning, so a 22-year-old Mark Webber is nowhere in terms of wisdom, but now I have a lot of wisdom it’s about dropping that into your whole skill set and performing better. But there comes a point where even that’s not enough to keep you at the front. And that’s when you need to stop.”
Webber’s current contract with Red Bull Racing expires at the end of the 2013 season.