Webber primed to help Vettel title bid

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The Independent Online

Mark Webber could yet have an important role to play in tomorrow's Brazilian Grand Prix after running fastest in yesterday's first practice.

The Australian is no longer in title contention after failing to score in the last five races, but his presence could prove vital to Red Bull team-mate Sebastian Vettel. The 22-year-old German trails championship leader Jenson Button by 16 points with two grands prix remaining and ideally needs another victory to follow on from his triumph in Japan two weeks ago to keep him in the hunt.

With Button also fighting Brawn GP team-mate Rubens Barrichello, who is 14 points adrift, Webber could be in a position to come to Vettel's aid should the team ask for his assistance.

The 33-year-old was certainly on the pace throughout the entire 90-minute session around the undulating Interlagos circuit, closing out with a lap of one minute 12.463sec.

Webber finished 0.411sec quicker than Barrichello, with Vettel third quickest and Button seventh, the latter 0.678sec down.

Brawn GP chief executive Nick Fry declared himself happy with Button's work as the team focused on aerodynamic improvements, notably to the front wing. The McLaren duo of Heikki Kovalainen and Lewis Hamilton suggested they will be in the mix this weekend as they were fourth and fifth in a session hit by two rain showers.

Both were just over half a second off Webber, with Williams' Kazuki Nakajima sixth, narrowly ahead of Button who set his best time of 1:13.141 with the last of his 29 laps.

Nico Rosberg in his Williams, Force India's Adrian Sutil and Kimi Raikkonen for Ferrari completed the top 10, followed by Toyota's Jarno Trulli and Nick Heidfeld in his BMW Sauber.

Sebastien Buemi was 13th for Toro Rosso, but ended up breaking his right-rear suspension in sliding into a tyre barrier at a time when the second shower had hit the circuit and the track was greasy. Romain Grosjean propped up the standings, and caused the only red flag 55 minutes into the run. The Frenchman, unlikely to be retained by Renault for next season, ploughed into a polystyrene sign, sending white bits all over the track and forcing marshals into a five-minute clean-up operation.

Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton has finally paid his last respects to hero Ayrton Senna. The reigning world champion grew up idolising Senna, and like many, was distraught when the three-time world champion was killed in an accident at the San Marino Grand Prix at Imola in May 1994.

For the past two years Hamilton had hoped to visit Senna's grave at Morumbi cemetery in Sao Paulo, just a few miles from the Interlagos circuit that stages the Brazilian Grand Prix. However, as the 24-year-old was embroiled in a world title fight which went down to the wire in 2007 and 2008, he was unable to find the time given the circumstances and his commitments.

But this year, with Hamilton merely an interested spectator in the championship race, he at last made the poignant trip he had long been eager to take. "It's an awesome place, very simple, just a plaque. For me it was special," reflected Hamilton, who is a Catholic. "It was only a matter of time before I did it.

"I've wanted to do it for the last two years, but I was being followed and all kinds. I wasn't yesterday, at least I don't think I was."

Despite the experience, it was not as private as Hamilton had hoped for. He added: "I just went in and tried to walk around people's graves as everyone else was walking over people's graves. I left after a couple of minutes because there were other people there and I didn't really want to be there at the same time as them."