By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Those who thought Mark Webber had blown his one and only chance of winning the Formula One title back in 2010 may need a rethink after the Australian's pole to flag Monaco Grand Prix victory.
In this most unpredictable of seasons with an unprecedented six different winners in six races, Webber has become a contender again.
With 14 races remaining, the 35-year-old is level on points with Red Bull team mate and double world champion Sebastian Vettel and only three behind Ferrari's overall leader Fernando Alonso.
Perhaps more importantly, after a disappointing year of driving in Vettel's shadow, the square-jawed Australian showed on Sunday that he has recovered the form that went walkabout in 2011.
"Last year was a little bit of a mystery to be honest," Webber said on Sunday, before he went out and back-flipped into his team's harbourside pool with the sort of youthful exuberance more often seen from his 24-year-old team mate.
"The gap sometimes was really extreme and it was hard for me to understand why it was like that sometimes. I think there was also a factor of me getting on top of the tyres but it wasn't all of it.
"The first five months was very tough and I was in a different category to the other car, whereas this year it's much more like 2009 or 2010, which is nice."
In 2010, Webber won four races and went into the final grand prix with one hand on the championship.
Losing out to Vettel came as a hammer blow. This time last year, when Vettel left Monaco celebrating a fifth win in six races and speeding towards his second title, there were questions about how long he would put up with it.
Australia's triple champion Jack Brabham, a family friend, certainly feared at the end of 2010 that Webber had let a golden chance slip through his fingers and that he might not get another.
Not now though. Webber has done better than Vettel in three of the races, each having won once.
His contract expires at the end of the season but now the media speculation is more about a possible move to glamour team Ferrari for 2013 rather than any impending exit from the sport.
Red Bull team boss Christian Horner, whose team are now the only ones to have won twice this season, sang his praises and indicated that Webber was more likely to stay put.
"He is driving really well and he is in great shape," he said of a man who started off the year with four fourth places in a row before finishing 11th in Spain. "He is at the top of his game.
"We have a very open and straightforward relationship with Mark and this does not change that situation.
"Why would he want to leave?," added Horner, who has a firm friendship with the driver as well as being his boss.
"The team are doing well and Mark knows the team very well. We are only at race six and a lot depends on his motivation and desire going forward. He is doing a great job and we are really happy with him."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Justin Palmer)