Mark Webber determined to keep 'vultures' away from seat
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Michael Schumacher's retirement has thrust Mark Webber into the role of Formula One's elder statesman, but the hard-bitten Australian believes he still has the tricks to keep the "vultures" away from his Red Bull driver's seat.
Webber will line up at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix as the oldest driver, clinging to another one-year contract with Red Bull and batting away suggestions his 12th season in F1 and seventh with the British-based team will be his swansong.
"I never ever expected that it would be such an interesting topic that I would be the oldest on the grid," Webber, who will turn 37 in August, told reporters on Wednesday.
"I didn't even see it coming until the last few weeks.
"I don't feel the oldest on the grid. You feel you're the oldest on the grid if you're back on the grid getting blown away, but that's my job to make sure it doesn't happen."
Webber claimed two victories at Monaco and Silverstone last year, but finished a disappointing sixth in the drivers championship after suffering back-to-back retirements late in the season.
He was again put in the shade by his younger team mate Sebastian Vettel, who collected five race wins on the way to a third consecutive title.
Despite media speculation linking a number of willing candidates for a coveted place in an outfit that has won the past three constructors championships, team principal Christian Horner has backed Webber to continue at Red Bull beyond 2013 if he continues to deliver.
Webber conceded that speculation over his contract had proved a distraction before he re-signed in 2012, but said he had become used to it.
"I think it was Kimi (Raikkonen) who was supposed to replace me in 2009," he noted dryly. "It comes with the territory when you're in a top team and you're at the back end of your career.
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