Mat Coch writes:
News that Mark Webber is expected to resign with Red Bull for next season has been met with strong suggestions that it will be his last with the team.
Speaking on Australian television just prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix Dr Helmut Marko revealed that he expects Webber to retire at the end of 2012.
Marko was interviewed about the progress of youngster Daniel Ricciardo, the Australian who took over from Narain Karthikeyan at Hispania after the European Grand Prix.
Part of Red Bull's development programme, Ricciardo's placement at HRT has sparked suggestions that he's being groomed to progress through the Red Bull ranks, firstly with Toro Rosso in 2012 and then alongside Sebastian Vettel at the senior team in 2013.
"As with the other Australian, he is probably going to retire in 2012," said Marko in an interview with Australia's ONE HD. "We need to find one of our juniors who can replace Mark Webber."
Christian Horner however attempted to deny Marko's comments when asked in the immediate aftermath of the Hungarian Grand Prix. "I don't think he said that," Horner countered. "I think he said 'possibly'.
"Helmut was probably focussing on Ricciardo, and things can obviously get lost in translation," he continued. "Daniel is on a development phase. He's got this opportunity to come in to Formula One, he looks a really interesting talent, but he's just started to cut his teeth."
Australia's Motorsport News has fuelled the speculation that Webber's position will be taken by Ricciardo. After the British Grand Prix the magazine claims the Hispania driver visited the Toro Rosso factory for a seat fitting in readiness for 2012.
However Ricciardo refused to be drawn on the speculation when asked in Hungary. "It would be very nice! We'll see, there's always a lot of rumours going around. I think the end of 2012 is a long way away to be honest. If I am in that position by that time then I think I'll be very happy, but I think one step at a time and just focus on each day rather than a year and a half or something ahead."
Ricciardo will need to use this season to impress Marko if the scenario is the play out as expected, Red Bull's Formula One advisor saying "he is losing too much in the pit stops, and losing too much when he is being lapped. We want him to fight with the people who are around him.
"He has to beat his teammate, and he has to progress," he added.
The news came as a surprise to Webber's management who only learned of Marko's comments when approached by Pitpass in Huingary.