Bernie Ecclestone has apparently performed a swift U-turn when allocating his backing in the F1 title race, now claiming that Mark Webber might be the most dangerous contender.
The septuagenarian F1 ringmaster has made no secret of his admiration for Webber's Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel, confidently predicting that the German was a future world champion, but appears to have cooled in his belief that this would be the youngster's year. Even though he was still tipping Vettel for the crown at the final European round in Italy two weeks ago, Ecclestone was veering towards his Australian rival when the circus touched down in Singapore this weekend.
“I am a big fan of Sebastian Vettel,” he confirmed to the local Express
newspaper, “but Mark has done brilliantly well and, at his age, he is so hungry for it. He knows this might be the best chance of his career - maybe the only one - and that makes him very dangerous.”
Ecclestone isn't the only one backing the 34-year old Webber, who currently enjoys a slim five-point lead McLaren's Lewis Hamilton, with Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Vettel all within a race win of the top spot. Despite Hamilton having only been knocked off the top of the table by Webber after his first lap DNF at Monza, few appear to be tipping the Briton or McLaren team-mate Button for the title, with even Alonso believing that Webber could be his biggest rival in the race that ends in Abu Dhabi in November.
“Mark has surprised everyone,” Alonso admitted to Germany's Bild
newspaper, “He has been the most consistent of all of us and deserves his lead.”
McLaren, however, arrives in Singapore confident that it can confound predictions that Red Bull will be the favourite for victory at each of the five remaining rounds, having brought further developments for its MP4-25 and hoping that the revised front wing and floor rigidity rules will count against the Milton Keynes team.
“I know from experience of testing the parts that they had, doing things they were doing, it was worth a lot of time,” Hamilton insisted, “If they have stopped doing it,then they will have lost a lot of time.”
Red Bull's RB6 sported some notable developments of its own as practice started on the Marina Bay circuit, with further front wing revisions from the pen of Adrian Newey clearly visible from the onboard camera. The amendments had some effect, with Vettel and Webber topping the practice times on Friday as the German hopes to close the gap on his team-mate before time - and races - run out.
Vettel can still count on some support in the paddock too, with Niki Lauda, a former employer of Ecclestone's at Brabham, still tipping the young German to overcome the 24-point deficit he currently faces.
"From the title fight of five, at the end the battle is between Vettel and Webber," the Austrian, a three-time champion himself, told Bild
, "The Red Bull cars have the edge because they have the best overall package, they are technically the fastest. Mark Webber is currently in a very good position, but Vettel demonstrated at Monza that he can stay cool and go for the risk. I think he can do it."