x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Webber has Abu Dhabi in focus

Championship leader is quick in practice at Singapore as he is keen to maintain his hold till the final race of the season in the UAE capital.

SINGAPORE // He may hold first position in the championship standings, but it is the last position on the Formula One calendar that Mark Webber is focusing on. The Red Bull-Renault driver returned to the top of the rankings two weeks ago after his sixth-place finish at Monza and he approaches this weekend's Singapore Grand Prix, the 15th of the season's 19 races, in pole position in the five-way fight for supremacy.

Yet Webber, who proved in yesterday's two practice sessions that he is as quick on the damp asphalt as he is relaxed on its sidelines, said he is not letting the standings table distract him from the matter at hand: retaining the lead here and maintaining it until he arrives at Yas Marina Circuit for the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on November 14. "It's a nice position to be in, but I'd certainly like a few more points," said Webber, who set the fastest time, ahead of Mercedes GP's Michael Schumacher, in a twilit first practice.

On 187 points, the Australian leads Lewis Hamilton of McLaren-Mercedes by five points, with Hamilton's teammate Jenson Button sandwiched in fourth between Ferrari's Fernando Alonso and Webber's Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel. "There are a few guys who have a few less points here and there, but it's still very interesting. It can move around - in a negative or positive way for some people - quite quickly," he said.

"You come here with the job of trying to win the race and that is what we'll try to do. But will five of us go to Abu Dhabi? The chances are it could, but it might be unlikely. It might be three, might be five, might be one. We have to finish races, stay in there. We have to be in the hunt in Abu Dhabi. Leading the world championship in Singapore is not the important thing, leading it in Abu Dhabi is."

Vettel clocked the fastest time yesterday under the nightfall and drier tarmac that arrived with the second practice. The German recorded a fastest lap of 1min 46.660secs, making him 0.627secs quicker than Webber, and more than a full second faster than Button, Alonso and Hamilton, who finished third, fourth and fifth respectively. The 5.793km Marina Bay Street Circuit evidently suits the Red Bull team, with the constructors' championship leaders benefiting from their strengths around the tight corners - a situation that had not been the case recently in Belgium and Italy.

"We know we have a fantastic car wherever we go in the world," Webber said. "But we probably wouldn't go to Spa and Monza every day of the week. We expect to be a bit more competitive here and we're looking to add to it pretty solidly. "We're optimistic that we can continue to chip away and it's important to do that in the next few weeks." Meanwhile, Adrian Sutil, who had finished third-fastest earlier in the evening, appeared to misjudge a chicane midway through second practice, resulting in his Force India car briefly taking to the air, snapping a wheel axis and forcing its driver to retire early.

Alonso also suffered damage when he slid off the track with 25 minutes remaining. However, the Ferrari driver insists the Italian manufacturers are confident of gaining maximum points this weekend. "We know Red Bull are maybe the favourites; they have had the best car for the whole of the 2010 season," Alonso said. "We know it is going to be hard and we respect our rivals a lot, but at the same time, I'm sure we will have a chance."

Lower on the grid, Christian Klien, the 27-year-old HRT-Cosworth reserve driver, was called upon to replace Sakon Yamamoto after the Japanese driver was taken ill. gmeenaghan@thenational.ae