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Monday 27 March 2017

Webber bidding to emerge from Vettel's long shadow

Tom Cary in Barcelona

Mark Webber's results to date this season have followed an uncanny trajectory: fifth in Australia, fourth in Malaysia, third in China, second in Turkey.

Whether the Australian can go one better tomorrow and win his first race of the year will depend largely on whether he can break Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel's vice-like stranglehold on qualifying this afternoon.

The young German has stormed to pole for five consecutive races stretching back to last season, usually by fairly handy margins. And not only over the rest of the field, but over the man in the garage next to him driving apparently identical machinery.

But at the venue where his purple patch began last year, it was Webber who topped both yesterday's practice sessions to suggest he could run the world champion close.

importance

"It's nice to come here with a nice result from last year," Webber said. "It's always been reasonable for me around here. I don't try any harder than other venues, but it seems the results have come a little bit easier in the past."

To give some idea of the importance of qualifying in Barcelona, the Spanish Grand Prix has been won from pole for the past 10 years.

The new regulations -- which mean multiple pit-stops per car and massively increased overtaking opportunities -- reduce the likelihood of that run continuing, but not by much. Vettel has still won three of four races from pole this year, showing that if you have the fastest car and can get out in front, it is possible to stay out of trouble.

The interesting bit will be if the leader cannot get out in front, which is what happened in China where Vettel was slow off the line and trailing two McLarens by the first corner.

With DRS -- the movable rear wing which increases straight-line speed -- permitted when a driver is within one second of the car in front, it can be very difficult to shake a following car once you have been caught.

The DRS zone here in Barcelona is the longest of the year so far and there are high expectations that, for once, we will have an entertaining Spanish Grand Prix.

McLaren look the most likely candidates to profit from any Red Bull error and will, at the minimum, want to reassert themselves over Ferrari, who beat them in Turkey last time out.

Lewis Hamilton split the Red Bulls in practice yesterday afternoon and despite labelling Pirelli's new hard tyre "a disaster", declared himself pumped up at a venue where he suffered racist abuse in 2008.

His team-mate Jenson Button, meanwhile, predicted that Red Bull may not have it all their own way tomorrow.

"We can fight them here," he said. "If Vettel gets it on pole and he pulls away n the first lap it will be very tricky to beat them, but if we get them into Turn One, it is anyone's." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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