GREATER NOIDA, INDIA // Mark Webber spent a pleasant afternoon this week knocking cricket balls around a local university campus with Gautam Gambhir, the popular India opening batsman.
Yesterday however, back among the familiar surroundings of his Red Bull Racing team'sFormula One hospitality, the Australian driver refused to deploy the straight bat as he faced media questions.
The most unpredictable start to a season in the history of F1 has gradually evolved into a championship fight that arrives in India as good as a two horse race - or at least one Prancing Horse and one Red Bull. Ferrari's Fernando Alonso sits second in the standings with 209 points, six less than Sebastian Vettel, Webber's teammate, but 42 ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in third place.
Webber, with 152 points and four races yet to be contested, remains mathematically in the fight, but he is quick to acknowledge a triumph would take "a lot of smelly races for Seb and Fernando".
Such is the closeness of the battle between the leading duo, suggestions have been made Webber might be asked to sacrifice his own race position to assist his teammate.
Alonso has benefited from such generosity this season from Felipe Massa, the Spaniard's Brazilian stablemate who allowed him to pass in Monza and then a month later did not overtake in Korea, despite posting faster lap times than Alonso. Consequently, the two-time champion has collected an additional six points more than his race pace deserved.
Webber said his German teammate should be expecting no such favours. When asked whether he will be allowed to win this weekend, Webber replied: "I willwin." When pressed on if he would be doing so without team support, he added: "I'll go for it. If I'm in the lead, I won't pull over for anyone. That's it."
The 36-year-old veteran has history of bristling when referred to as a No 2 driver and in the shade of the subcontinental sun, the heat of the moment got the better of the good-natured Webber once again as he shot down a German journalist guilty of asking a leading question.
Vettel appeared far more at ease when asked about the possibility of team orders being deployed this weekend.
The 25 year old won India's inaugural race last season and arrives in fine form having won the past three races in Singapore, Japan and Korea.
Remarkably, given his domination of the sport over the past two years, he has never won four grands prix in succession, but he is not considering the possibility of relying on Webber.
"I had lots of questions asked before the last race about team orders and my answer was always the same," Vettel said.
"First, we see to having a good start and then we will cross that bridge if we get to it. I don't like to talk about these things because there is probably a million different scenarios. I prefer to stay focused on what's important."
In Korea, Vettel returned to his imperious best to take the lead in the championship standings for the first time since April and with three of the next four races taking place at circuits that have historically suited the Red Bull car, the reigning two-time world champion can be confident.
Alonso, however, maintains his own quest for a third drivers' title is on track, despite seeing his 39-point lead evaporate into a six-point deficit in the space of three races.
The 31 year old has finished in the points at every race this year, with the exception of Belgium and Japan where his races ended prematurely following first-lap incidents outside his control.
"With four races to go we have nearly the same points as Vettel and have all the possibilities open for the championship," Alonso said.
"We are in the situation that we wanted: fighting for the championship until the end.
"We were leading the championship up until Korea thanks to our consistency and through avoiding making mistakes.
"We have produced 16 perfect races and now we must produce another four. If we do that, we will be very close to winning the championship."