Webber fastest during Korea practice

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The Independent Online

Championship leader Mark Webber powered his way to the top of the standings ahead of Sunday's inaugural Korean Grand Prix.

Bidding to extend his 14-point lead and move a step closer to the title, Webber finished the day's two practice sessions at Formula One's newest venue with a comfortable advantage.

Other than the safety car yesterday, no other car had completed a lap of the £180m Korea International Circuit since the final layer of asphalt had been applied less than a fortnight ago.

Unsurprisingly, given such conditions, there were complaints early on from the drivers over the in-car radio relating to its slippery and dusty nature.

But as the day wore on and more rubber was laid down, naturally the times tumbled, starting with a two minutes and 20 seconds from Toro Rosso's Jaime Alguersuari who practically tip-toed around the track.

By the end of the first 90-minute outing Lewis Hamilton had slashed 40 seconds off that time, and come the conclusion to the second Red Bull star Webber had cut into that by a further three seconds.

Red Bull had feared the first sector that includes three straights would be detrimental to their cause before coming into their own in the twistier second and third sectors.

Webber proved, though, his team's car can cope with any problem as he finished the day with a lap of one minute 37.942seconds, almost two tenths of a second ahead of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso.

Hamilton was forced to settle for third, 0.377secs behind Webber who took the honours at the end of a session in which the lead changed hands many times.

Renault's Robert Kubica was fourth overall, reigning champion Jenson Button in his McLaren and Ferrari's Felipe Massa were the only other drivers to finish within a second of Webber.

At one stage Button was forced to spend some time in the garage as his mechanics resolved an issue that brought out the extinguishers to the back of his car.

Sebastian Vettel, the man in form at the moment after finishing second and first in the last two grands prix to close the gap to team-mate Webber to 14 points in the title race, surprisingly was 1.262secs down in seventh place.

Renault continued their strong showing with Vitaly Petrov in eighth place, followed by the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg and Kamui Kobayashi in his Sauber.

As the drivers pushed on a track that slowly came to them, there were a number of minor offs, the most notable of which involved Hispania Racing's Sakon Yamamoto.

Yamamoto brought out the day's only red flag, spinning after hitting a kerb, and although he only sustained minor damage to a front wing rear-end plate after clipping a wall, the Japanese stalled his car as he attempted to return to action.

It proved to be a day of woe for Hispania as Bruno Senna suffered a suspension failure in the first session that saw the Brazilian spin off track.

Requiring repairs that took up almost the whole of the second stint, Senna eventually returned for the final few minutes, finishing bottom of the timesheets 8.7secs down.