Ahead of his seventh season with Red Bull, Mark Webber has reacted to recent comments made by Helmut Marko.
Speaking to Bild in January, Marko, who is racing advisor to Red Bull's owner Dietrich Mateschitz, made it quite clear how he sees the Australian's role within the team.
"Mark knows what we expect of him," he said. "For four years, Vettel and Webber have driven together in our team. Sebastian was runner-up once and champion three times. The statistic speaks for itself. There is no reason to think the balance of power will change."
In a further interview with the Red Bulletin, the team's own publication, Marko appeared to further twist the knife.
"It seems to me that Webber has on average two races per year where he is unbeatable," he said, "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. 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.
"No driver remains unaffected by this, because the tension is palpable," he continued. "In 2010, it was particularly extreme. Webber headed into the final race with better chances than Vettel, and he probably carried the disappointment of his defeat into the 2011 season, which is so easy to understand.
"Something that I think is also very important is that for much of his career, Mark was never in a top team, but he was always regarded as a high flyer if he only could get into the right team. Then Red Bull puts him in a car - a possible winner - and suddenly along comes this young kid and he snatches the booty from under Mark's nose. Psychologically it's not easy, of course; this would gnaw away at anyone's confidence. It's more than understandable."
Said to be on the shopping list for a number of teams, despite his age, Webber signed a new one-year deal with Red Bull last July, a move which surprised many, particularly in light of the Australian's numerous comments about perceived bias within the Austrian outfit. Indeed, at the height of the in-team rivalry, having just won the British Grand Prix, Webber sniped 'not bad for a number two' over the team radio, much to the frustration of team boss Christian Horner.
In a pre-season Q&A on his website, Webber was asked about Marko's comments, the response made it quite clear how the veteran feels.
"Everyone at this level has their own agendas," said the Australian, "and it's been evident for a long time now that I've never been a part of Marko's."
Looking ahead to the new season, Webber said: "I'm sure we've got another exciting and challenging season ahead, and it'll be interesting to see who comes out of the gates strongly; you might get an inkling from pre-season testing to the form book but it's only when we arrive in Melbourne for the first race that the gloves really come off.
"I'm certainly looking forward to getting my hands on the RB9 and I also have a new race engineer in Simon Rennie. It's going to be important to have a solid pre-season with him after spending some six years with Ciaron Pilbeam who I had a long and enjoyable relationship with, but he's no longer with the team. I'm looking forward to starting the season in Australia having prepared very well for it over the past two months. But it's clear there's no point getting too far ahead of yourself, so it's a case of taking each week, test and race as it comes."