MELBOURNE, March 17, 2012 (AFP) - Australia will have two drivers on the grid for the first time for their home race when the season-opening Australian Grand Prix begins in Melbourne on Sunday. Past heroes such as three-time world champion Jack Brabham (1959, 1960 and 1966) and Alan Jones (1980) were always the sole carriers of the Australian flag in their halcyon days.
But on Sunday both Mark Webber, 35, of Red Bull, and Daniel Ricciardo, of sister team Toro Rosso, will be in the field, barring the unexpected.
For Webber, the target is a badly needed first victory on home soil while for the promising Ricciardo, 22, on his Melbourne debut, it will be to prove that he is a worthy successor to Webber -- possibly at Red Bull.
"It's great for us, for Australia, to have two Australian drivers on the grid here and I am sure the fans are in for a great weekend," said Webber, the focus of intense media interest in the build-up to the big race.
"For myself, I'm looking to have a much better year this year than I did last year. Of course that means a lot of winning and improving the start of the season, which is clearly possible.
"I feel better than I did this time last year, in terms of coming off the back of the pre-season testing, and it's nice to have the feeling that I had in Brazil last year when I had that late win."
The pressure is on Webber this season to deliver at Red Bull after a disappointing season last year in what was widely regarded as the best car. "It's going to be a great battle again at the front," he said.
"This is what I'm excited about -- it's what I'm training for, it's what I'm preparing for and this is why I'm looking forward to getting the first part of the championship under way.
"The best news is that we have a sensational season ahead. There's no guarantee, but I feel there are going to be some really good moments this year. "There'll be some headwinds too, that's normal, and over a long season things can happen to us where we'll have to deal with adversity here
"That's part of competing at this level and any top sport, but I'm bloody excited about the whole season and looking forward to doing some fantastic results."
Webber added that he had given little thought to his future beyond this season even though his one-year rolling contract is due to expire at the end of the year.
"It's been the same since 2005, and I've done all right since then," he said.
"I've achieved some amazing things in the last few years which I'm proud of, and if I'm sitting here with a two-year contract I wouldn't feel any different.
Webber did not say it, but the man in line to step up to a free seat alongside defending double world champion Sebastian Vettel could be the aspiring Ricciardo.
The West Australian is widely tipped for the role when the time comes. "It's no worries for me," insisted Webber. "I'm just going to race and see what happens.