x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Webber leads charts, as rain wrenches preparations

Mark Webber posts the Friday's fastest time as rain sends the Formula One teams into a scramble in preparation for Sunday's Belgium Grand Prix.

Mark Webber splashed his way to the top of the speed charts Friday during practice for Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.
Mark Webber splashed his way to the top of the speed charts Friday during practice for Sunday's Belgian Grand Prix.

SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS // Sebastian Vettel said he planned to give Mark Webber, his Red Bull Racing teammate, body lotion for his 35th birthday Saturday, but the Australian will be hoping to finish the day with something a little more substantial: pole position for Sunday's Formula One Belgian Grand Prix.

Webber posted the fastest lap at Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps Friday during a rain-interrupted second practice session.

His best time of one minute 50.321 seconds was 0.14 seconds faster than Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

Jenson Button, the McLaren-Mercedes driver who won the previous race in Hungary last month, was third quickest.

While Vettel's early-season dominance has dwindled, Webber has shown improvement in recent races, securing pole in two of the previous three races.

Saturday he hopes to make it three from four, and said he also hopes to soon make an announcement about a new contract.

"Not far away, mate," he said of a potential new deal.

"Decisions will be made shortly, so we should be pretty close to doing something. Obviously, Dietrich [Mateschitz, the Red Bull owner] has been great, as have all the boys and everyone at the team. All will become clear shortly."

Alonso, who has failed to finish at Spa four times from seven races, said he is ready again to risk everything, as the Italian manufacturer have far less to lose than their Red Bull rivals.

Vettel leads the world championship by 85 points, but Alonso has collected more points than any other driver in the past two months, and said earlier this week he was in no mood to give up.

However, because of inclement conditions Friday, Alonso and his team were able to take "very little information" from the two sessions.

"We don't know who is quick, who is not quick and who can be advantaged in the case of changeable conditions," he said.

"So, we are ready to take whatever comes in qualifying.

"For sure, changeable conditions is a gamble sometimes, and for the people behind in the championship if we take a risk, and maybe things go wrong, we don't lose too much because we are already behind.

"In the case of Red Bull, if you make a wrong decision maybe the price is higher."

Lewis Hamilton finished fourth and agreed with his former McLaren teammate that, following the mid-season break, little has been learnt as to which team has improved the most.

"I think it's impossible at the moment to say where we are," Hamilton said.

"I think we're competitive, I think Ferrari are competitive, I think Red Bull are competitive. That's the same story as before the holidays.

"These conditions make it very tough, but everyone is in the same boat. I just hope we make the right choices this weekend in terms of the conditions."