Mark Webber believes that Daniel Ricciardo could mount a challenge for the Formula 1 drivers’ championship in 2017.
Ricciardo finished the 2016 season third in the standings, taking one race win for Red Bull and recording more consecutive points finishes than any other driver.
The Australian now has four grand prix victories under his belt, and, with the right car, Webber is sure that Ricciardo could mount a title bid in 2017.
“Daniel was probably the most consistent driver in the field this year and he’s absolutely world class, in that top three drivers,” Webber told The Age.
“He’s in a position to go again next year and certainly vie for the championship if Red Bull can get the car together because Nico [Rosberg] is virtually impossible to replace in the short term at Mercedes.”
Rosberg’s shock retirement was announced just five days after he claimed his maiden F1 championship in Abu Dhabi.
Webber believes that the decision will leave Mercedes on the back foot for 2017 as it continues to search for a replacement.
“I’m really happy for [Rosberg]. Things just line up in your life and he’s decided his time is now,” Webber said.
“Nico and Lewis [Hamilton] drove each other to be better, but now they won’t have that all-star line-up. Lewis is brilliant and absolutely ruthless, but this will shake up the F1 market.”
Webber retired from motorsport at the end of 2016 after spending three years in the FIA World Endurance Championship with Porsche, having raced in F1 prior to that.
Webber said that he was pleased to have quit racing on his own terms instead of being forced to call time on his career.
“So many people in sport manage to get that timing right when their best days are behind them, and I wanted to find out where that slope started rather than roll down it,” Webber said.
“It was good to be weaned off slowly. I had the decision in my mind that my three-year deal with Porsche from 2014 to 2016 would be it, but I had ups and downs.
“Sometimes F1 years are worth two years because it’s so mentally draining, and I wanted to finish with a little bit in the tank.”