Mark Webber has signed the long expected one year contract renewal deal to stay at Red Bull, after a summer of negotiations with team boss Christian Horner and Red Bull owner Dietrich Mateschitz. The deal was announced this morning, his 35th birthday.
The deal means a sixth season with the team for the Australian, who has played a key role in building Red Bull up to world championship level, along with David Couthard, although more recently Sebastian Vettel has been the one who’s taken the spoils.
Webber described the decision to add another year as a “no brainer”, given the competitiveness of the Red Bull package at the moment, unbeaten in qualifying and dominating both championships. Lewis Hamilton said on Thursday that he expects the team to again start next season with an advantage.
But this time next year things look set to change as the deals get done for 2013. There is the feeling that 2012 will be Webber’s swansong year and a new driver will come through to partner Vettel. Neither of the Toro Rosso drivers has shown enough to earn the drive yet, while Red Bull has placed Daniel Ricciardo at HRT to give him a chance to learn the tracks and quietly get used to racing at the premier level. Should they feel confident enough and decide to fast track him, he may find himself in a Toro Rosso next year and then maybe Red Bull the year after.
It looks like Ferrari may make a change after next year, replacing Felipe Massa. The original plan was Robert Kubica but the Pole is still unsure of his ability to drive a car as he recuperates. Nico Rosberg remains the favoured candidate, according to Italian sources, but Mercedes would be determined in their resolution to keep him.
Massa may well find that the new Brazilian business connection at Renault opens a door for him for 2013, especially if Lotus takes more control of the team. There are strong ties between Massa’s manager Nicolas Todt and Group Lotus boss Dany Behar.
In terms of movement for next year, Michael Schumacher is expected to race again for Mercedes but that hasn’t been confirmed, while Rubens Barrichello’s situation at Williams is under review. Force India have to decide which two of their three closely-matched drivers will have the race seats next year and of course the Renault situation remains fluid, pending Kubica’s recovery.