x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Some signs of improvement for Mark Webber

Lewis Hamilton splits the Red Bull pair and calls new tyre a "disaster".

BARCELONA // Two Red Bull Racing cars, two Red Bull Racing drivers, but remarkably marked differences during race weekends. Mark Webber, who has finished behind - sometimes substantially behind - Sebastian Vettel, his teammate, at every grand prix this season recently put the disparity down to the German adapting quicker to Pirelli's new tyres.

Yesterday, under a glinting sun at the Circuit de Catalunya, the 12 race teams preparing for tomorrow's Spanish Grand Prix were given their first experience of Pirelli's new "hard" tyre - and this time it was Webber who appeared to be adapting quicker.

The Australian, who won here last year from pole, topped the time-sheets in both of the day's sessions and was more than one second quicker than Vettel in the morning. By the afternoon, Lewis Hamilton of McLaren-Mercedes had split the Red Bull pair to trail Webber by just 0.39s and push Vettel down to third, a further 0.17s behind. Jenson Button and Fernando Alonso finished fourth and fifth respectively.

Yet none of the driving quintet were impressed by the new tyre. Hamilton called it "a disaster", Webber said they provided "a bit of mystery", and Button said they came as "a bit of a shock". Vettel added: "It was the first chance we had with the new spec tyres - and I can confirm they are pretty hard."

Alonso refused to comment.

Pirelli have introduced the more durable tyre in response to criticism the softer compound degraded too rapidly. The result is a distinctive time difference between soft and hard as well as the possibility of employing more aggressive strategies.

Alonso's extended presence at Ferrari, meanwhile, would not provide a stumbling block to any potential move the Italian manufacturers have planned for Lewis Hamilton. The Spaniard signed a new contract earlier this week keeping him at the Maranello-based team until 2016.

Alonso and Hamilton endured a fractious relationship together at McLaren in 2007, but Stefano Domenicali, the Ferrari team principal, refused to rule out reuniting the two rivals.

"People can change and have a different approach," he said. "I consider Lewis one of the top three drivers at the moment, so in that respect, I consider him a potential driver for the strongest team. Never say never in life."

"Lewis is a strong driver and in the future who knows what can happen? I don't want to say that it's a possibility, but I don't want to exclude the possibility. There are a few drivers that are really very strong, but speaking about this subject now, it is not correct for the team. I am focused to extrapolate the maximum value out of the drivers that Ferrari has."