x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Mark Webber wings it in Singapore

Mark Webber is playing a risky game at a vital stage of the season, but it is Lewis Hamilton who is paying the price.

Mark Webber was a very lucky man to finish the Singapore Grand Prix in third place and still be leading the championship. He drove with such aggression as he tried to defend Lewis Hamilton's charge that he ran into the back of the Briton and could easily have put himself out of the race.

But he got away with it and Hamilton was the one who came off worst and had to retire while Webber came through the incident relatively unscathed. Considering that Webber was the championship leader going into Sunday's showdown there is no way he should have put himself at risk in that way. He could easily have been eliminated from the race himself or he could have caused considerable damage to his car and lost vital places on the track.

If he had gone out it would have been a major blow to his championship bid with rivals Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel and Jenson Button all scoring well. Failing to finish a race at this stage of the season can have a crucial impact on a driver's title challenge, as the unfortunate Hamilton will acknowledge. He failed to finish for the second successive race, and the third time in the last four grands prix.

Neither Webber or Hamilton really did anything wrong in the crash on lap 35, and the race stewards probably called it about right in saying that it was a racing incident and that neither driver should face any further punishment. But it was amazing that Webber was willing to risk so much, given the bigger picture. The Australian had been held up slightly behind slower cars on a restart after a safety car period and Hamilton got a run on him in his McLaren-Mercedes as they headed to Turn Seven.

Hamilton had arguably won the corner as he braked later on the outside, but Webber tried to fight back, putting his Red Bull-Renault down the inside, only for him to hit the left rear of the McLaren. Webber could have easily broken his front wing or suspension in the impact. In the end it was a reasonable day for Webber as he did not have the pace of Fernando Alonso or his teammate Vettel. But he got the most out of the day his car's performance realistically allowed.

He still leads the standings, and has actually extended his advantage to 11 points with four races to go and it is looking good for him, especially with the next grand prix in Japan very likely to suit the Red Bull. For Hamilton it was a shattering setback. He is now 20 points behind Webber in the table and is facing a tall order if he is to win a second title. The championship race remains as tight as it was going into the race, with 25 points covering the top five, with a maximum of 100 left to fight for.

Having won the last two races Alonso is undoubtedly the man with the momentum, the Ferrari driver having made up 27 points on Webber from the results in Singapore and Italy to put himself well and truly in the hunt for a third world championship. The Spaniard was superb in his Ferrari and did not put a wheel wrong all race as he led under pressure throughout from Vettel. This is the crucial period in the season and Alonso and Ferrari have raised their game at the right time.

Alonso has the experience of fighting for and winning titles when things are tight and that could prove vital over the coming weeks. The fact that he won in a car that was not the quickest on the track made his performance even more impressive. Vettel was fast all weekend and was quicker than Alonso in the race, but was unable to overtake the Ferrari on the tight turns of the Marina Bay Street Circuit.

Ultimately it should have been a win for the German, but his mistake in qualifying, which cost him a couple of tenths of a second, lost him the pole position that should have been his and he was powerless to do anything about Alonso in the race. It was only a small error, but it is those kind of moments that help win and lose championships. Vettel still has a chance of winning the title, but being 21 points behind his teammate Webber means it is only an outside hope.

Johnny Herbert is a former Formula One driver who competed in 161 races, winning three times 

sports@thenational.ae