Horner: Webber is going to be a contender this year 15 March, 2012 Mark Webber (AUS) Red Bull Racing and Sebastian Vettel play cricket on St. Kilda beach ahead of the Australian GP weekend Mar.15 (Reuters) Mark Webber has sweated through the European Winter to give himself the best possible shot of beating double world champion team mate Sebastian Vettel when the F1 season starts in Australia this weekend. Christian Horner with Mark Webber Already one of the leanest and fittest drivers on a starting grid that now includes six champions, the 35-year-old Red Bull driver turns up for his home race in Melbourne lighter and hungrier than ever. Team boss Christian Horner felt that the no-nonsense Australian was sure to be a contender again after a disappointing 2011 season in which the final race in Brazil brought his only victory. “He has worked hard on his weight because he was probably giving away a fraction of range in set-up of weight distribution last year to Sebastian who is a few kilos lighter than him,” Horner told British reporters. “He was determined to narrow that band. The team has found it for him as well by managing to take weight out of the car so he’s in great shape. I think he lost about a further kilo. “There’s not a lot of him anyway because he is quite a tall frame,” added Horner. “He’s been very disciplined with his diet to do that.” Webber’s height and build has been a disadvantage in the past against smaller team mates, allowing him less room to manoeuvre with ballast around the car. Mark Webber celebrates winning the 2011 Brazilian GP A fitness fanatic, like the similarly lanky but now absent Robert Kubica, Webber took time to come to terms with the new Pirelli tyres last season. Horner felt that the driver also struggled to pick himself up from the disappointment of coming so close to the title in 2010 before losing out at the last race in Abu Dhabi to Vettel. “I think he’s going to be a contender this year,” said the Briton. “The tonic of winning that last race at the end of last year, going into the Winter actually set his off-season very well. He’s gone away, he’s trained hard, he’s come back lighter and fitter than he’s ever been. “He’s more relaxed, noticeably so, within the team than he was 12 months ago. As he’s admitted, the hangover of not winning at the end of 2010 carried into 2011, and at times last year it didn’t look as though he was enjoying going racing. “But I think he’s got back his enthusiasm and his passion for the sport,” said Horner. Mark Webber made his debut at the 2002 Australian GP with Minardi No Australian has won his home grand prix and Webber, whose contract runs out at the end of the year, faces a major test from his team mate, let alone what appears to be a stronger challenge from McLaren and other rivals. Vettel, 24, won 11 races last year after starting a record 15 from pole position. The German is chasing his third successive championship which would make him only the third driver to pull off such a hat-trick. “He [Webber] knows that in Sebastian, he is up against currently the best driver in the world and he’s come more to terms with that,” said Horner. “Certainly his testing performances have been very encouraging and he just seems more relaxed and is enjoying his driving again.” Subbed by AJN. Related NewsDecision on Red Bull Melbourne disqualification appeal on TuesdayRed Bull appeal of Melbourne disqualification is first test of F1′s new eraRed Bull deny dropping Ricciardo disqualification appealRed Bull appeal to be heard in Paris on 14 AprilRed Bull disqualification appeal may take several weeksRed Bull file papers to appeal Ricciardo disqualificationTech Talk: We explain why Ricciardo was disqualified as Flowgate becomes F1′s latest sagaFIA backs fuel flow sensor maker in aftermath of Red Bull disqualificationTech Talk: Wings of change in MelbourneWhiting reveals Red Bull were warned early in the race Bent Spark Plug Webber is THE MAN for 2012. He will take one for the Aussies in round one Melbourne Sunday afternoon. Obvious A contender against the field. Not against Seb. Different league. Butterfly If he can use those tires properly, then yes, he will be a contender. Otherwise, maybe 3rd in the championship… Obvious Maybe, but 3rd isn’t a contender, which implies potential of being champion.. I really don’t think he has the raw talent. I am biased as well, he lost all respect from me, during the Korean GP in 2010… Crying to all the stewards to cancel the race! pleeeaaasse!! Please? What do you want? On my knees? Lame. Be a man and race to win the championship… Weak. I remember the same grid, Hamilton (of which I am not a fan) he was saying, get on with it, screw the rain, let’s race… I have a Championship I am trying to win.