Webber happy to start Down Under

Tue, 22 Feb 18:23:00 2011

Melbourne will take Formula One "back to the good old days" after civil unrest in Bahrain left Australia to host next month's season opener, Mark Webber has said.

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Bahrain authorities called off their March 13 race on Monday after a week of bloody anti-government demonstrations in the Gulf kingdom, leaving Australia to open the sport's new championship on March 27.

Speaking to Reuters from his home in central England, the 34-year-old Red Bull driver welcomed the unexpected chance to kick off his title campaign on home soil.

"It's a real shame that we missed out on Bahrain. It has been good to us in the past and hopefully they will get on top of everything out there shortly," said the 2010 title contender. "So on to the next one, which happens to be in Australia.

"It's back to the good old days isn't it? It always used to be the season-opener and it's a sensational place for it."

Webber scored the first points of his F1 career in Melbourne when he finished fifth on his debut with struggling minnows Minardi in 2002.

For years that remained his best result but as Australia's sole F1 driver he was always guaranteed a place in the limelight in Melbourne.

This year promises to be even more of a crowd-puller, with Webber arriving after the best year of his career and hoping to become the first Australian to win his home grand prix.

"Monaco is the number one and after that you go for your home races," said the man whose wins in the principality and at Silverstone last year helped him become the first Australian since 1980 champion Alan Jones to lead the standings.

"We are not in a position to pick and choose but it is one that any driver would like to win after Monaco."

Webber said the opening slot would be a big boost for Melbourne, with more tourists expected to travel to Australia and stay for longer, and brushed off recent criticism of the event by politicians.

Local parliamentarian Michael Danby said only on Monday that Melbourne should cut its losses and not renew the contract for the race when it expires in 2015.

Melbourne's Lord Mayor Robert Doyle last month also questioned the worth and viability of the race.

"That's normal stuff mate, isn't it?" said Webber. "It always comes around each year.

"This (being the season opener) is a real great positive boost. As usual with someone's little bit of misfortune or bad luck, which is certainly the case with this one, someone receives a bit of a boost.

"It's not like we've just gained an event, it was always on the schedule, but it's just I suppose an added 15 percent bonus as the first grand prix."

Some have suggested the delay in starting the season could play into the hands of Red Bull's rivals McLaren, who have been having some reliability problems in testing and now have more time to get on top of them.

Webber disagreed with that assessment.

"I don't think the extra two or three weeks will make a huge difference to the championship," he said.

"It might give someone or some teams a bit more time to get their house in order for the first race but also the guys that are in good shape are polishing and sharpening their knives pretty well.

"Everyone can benefit from a bit more time so I'm not going to read too much into that."

Melbourne will be the first race with the new Pirelli tyres, Bridgestone's replacements, as well as the first competitive test of the moveable rear wing and other novelties.

Bahrain was panned in 2010 as the most boring race of the season, although the track has since been reconfigured, and its absence this time could see 2011 start with far more of a bang.

"I think every grand prix this year has a chance to be pretty interesting," said Webber diplomatically.

"We don't know quite yet how the races are going to unfold with strategy and how the rear wing's going to work and KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) and that sort of stuff.

"When you get down to the nitty gritty of actually what's going to happen on Sunday afternoon and how exciting it's going to be, we don't quite know yet.

"But all things we've seen so far are indicating it is going to be pretty unpredictable and for the neutral that's a good thing."

Webber, who broke his leg in 2008 and then fractured his shoulder last year in mountain bike accidents, said he was ready and raring to go with one more test scheduled for Barcelona before the season starts.

"It's all good. I've been doing lots of (bike) riding, being out on the bike training and doing stuff. I'm in pretty good nick actually, not bad for an old boy, so ready to go again."

Reuters

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