Webber springs surprise on Vettel to snatch pole position

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Mark Webber has taken pole position for tomorrow’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after denying teammate Sebastian Vettel in the dying stages of qualifying at Yas Marina Circuit.

Webber’s fastest time of 1:39.957 was enough to see him finish one-tenth of a second ahead of Vettel as Mercedes failed to mount a serious challenge to Red Bull’s dominance in Abu Dhabi. However, the big shock of qualifying was Fernando Alonso’s failure to make it through to Q3 for the first time since the 2012 European Grand Prix as the Spaniard was forced to settle for eleventh place.

The start of Q1 saw the majority of the field immediately head out on the medium compound tire, but Red Bull chose to remain in the pits in favor of a single run on the quicker soft tire towards the end of the session. Jean-Eric Vergne posted the first serious time but he was soon beaten by both Mercedes drivers as Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg looked to prove that they could challenge Red Bull on the medium tire. However, the world champions soon claimed the top two positions when they came out on the option tire, believing that only using the mediums was too great a risk. The rest of the field soon followed suit, and with the track at Abu Dhabi rapidly increasing in grip, it soon became a question of timing. Pastor Maldonado timed his final lap perfectly to finish fourth, whilst Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso both required late laps to get out of the dropzone and secure a place in Q2. Hamilton’s late effort saw him finish fastest of all, but Esteban Gutierrez and Adrian Sutil were less fortunate and were eliminated at the end of Q1. Giedo van der Garde proved himself to be the best of the backmarkers once again, whilst Jules Bianchi bounced back from his off in FP3 to qualify P20, but a gearbox change means that he will start from last place.

For Q2, the drivers opted to use the same tires that they had in the first session to begin with. Mercedes soon proved that they were capable of matching Red Bull by going first and second after the first set of runs ahead of Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen. Felipe Massa also produced a good first lap to lie seventh, but his teammate could only sit P12 heading into the second runs where most fitted a fresh set of option tires. Daniel Ricciardo, Sergio Perez and Nico Hulkenberg all produced fine laps on their final runs to secure a place in Q3 whilst Rosberg, Hamilton and Vettel all opted not to run again, having done enough. Mark Webber finished third ahead of his teammate whilst both Lotus drivers made it through. However, the big shock was Fernando Alonso’s elimination after the Spaniard could only finish the session in eleventh place, one-tenth behind teammate Felipe Massa who finished tenth, and was the only Ferrari driver in Q3 as a result.

Heading into the final session, it appeared to be a straight fight between Red Bull and Mercedes, but Sebastian Vettel quickly established his dominance by setting the fastest time in the first set of runs. He lapped the circuit three-tenths quicker than Nico Rosberg initially to give him provisional pole, but with a few minutes remaining there was still time for the German driver to be denied. Mark Webber produced a stunning lap to edge out his teammate as the checkered flag fell, and Vettel simply could not respond and was forced to settle for second place. Lewis Hamilton spun off at turn twelve on his final run, ending his faint hopes of pole position. Kimi Raikkonen could only finish fifth ahead of Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg and the Finn’s teammate, Romain Grosjean. Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo rounded out the top ten as all three drivers were forced to ease off following Hamilton’s spin.

Given that all of the signs had suggested that pole position was Vettel’s for the taking, Webber’s triumph on Saturday in qualifying will come as a pleasant surprise to many. Now the Australian driver will be focused on claiming his first win of the season as he enters the third to last race of his Formula One career before his retirement at the end of the year.

Cooper Webb leaps from obscurity to Supercross lead

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Cooper Webb could not even locate the radar tower before the 2019 season began – let alone expect to see his number dead center in the radar screen.

His ascent to 450 competition came with little fanfare. Finishing 13th in Supercross in 2017 and then eighth in Motocross, Webb did not turn many heads as a rookie. Last year was more of the same.

Through Round 7 at Arlington, Webb failed to record a single top five. That elusive result would come the following week at Tampa with a fourth-place finish. Two weeks later, he stood on the podium at Daytona for the only the second time in his Supercross 450s career. But at season’s end, Webb was only ninth in the standings in both Supercross and Motocross.

No one expected much from him when Anaheim rolled around this year.

Webb started the season much the same as he ended 2018. A fifth-place finish in Anaheim I in muddy and equalizing conditions was followed by a modest 10th at Glendale, but the rider from North Carolina believed in himself.

In professional racing, nothing is more difficult than winning the first race. Webb’s first taste of victory came in Heat 1 of the Triple Crown at Anaheim II. Everyone remained skeptical – it was only one heat race after all. The skepticism turned to interest when he won Heat 2. Then Webb finished third in Heat 3 to take the overall victory. It was his first win in the 450 class.

That was all it took to unleash his potential. Webb won the following week in Oakland and then again two weeks later in Minneapolis.

The Supercross riders left Minnesota and headed straight down Interstate 35 to Arlington with four of them separated by two points. All eyes were focused on Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin – and, oh yeah Webb who sat in second.

Someone was likely to stumble in Arlington and the odds on favorite to do so was Webb. That seemed to be confirmed once the feature started. While the three more experienced riders led by Tomac scooted away from the field, Webb was mired outside the top five for the first six lap.

It was Tomac who tripped and fell, however. Webb passed the stricken rider and surged to fifth on Lap 7. He was in fourth by Lap 10 and third on Lap 16.  As Webb and teammate Musquin battled for the second, they slowly reeled in the leader Roczen. Once Webb broke free on the conflict with the runner-up position firmly his, he could see the red plate on Roczen’s Honda like a cape being waved in front of a bull.

Webb charged through the final six laps getting closer and closer until he edged Roczen for the closest finish in Supercross history. It was Webb’s fourth victory of the season, coming only four weeks after he scored his first career win.

Relive the final laps in the video posted above.

As incredible as Webb’s rise to the points lead is, it has been done before.

Last year Jason Anderson seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the standings after Round 2. Anderson held the advantage for the remainder of the year, while Webb has been part of a game of hot potato in which no one seems to want to don the red plate for more than a week.

The pressure continues to mount. Webb now has a two-point advantage over Roczen, who is the only rider to sweep the top five this season.

Webb’s advantage over third is a mere four points, while Musquin has a current five-race streak of podium finishes to his credit.

Tomac’s trouble in Texas serves as a cautionary tale that a single loss of focus can be devastating and Webb still lacks the seat time of his three principal rivals, but last week’s incredible come-from-behind victory is showing that Webb is riding above experience level.

Follow the complete Supercross and Motocross seasons on NBC Sports, Gold.