A pair of Mark Webber's F1 rivals have expressed surprise with the Australian's 2011 season.
Although the 34-year-old seemed closer at Valencia recently, he has generally struggled to keep up with his Red Bull teammate Sebastian Vettel, who is utterly dominating the championship so far.
"Of course Sebastian is doing a very good job but I am a bit surprised with how difficult it seems to be for Mark," German Heidfeld, who drives for Renault, told News Ltd.
"Last year, even though Sebastian won the championship, Mark was able to be very strong in parts of the season. It seems to be a bit more difficult for him this season," he added.
And McLaren's Jenson Button told the Observer that Webber's form this year has surprised him as well.
"I think Seb's a great driver. He has proved that this season. But I am surprised he is that much quicker than Mark, so there is obviously something that is not working for Mark," said the Briton.
"He hasn't really been on the same pace as Sebastian this year, which surprises me as he is quick. He says he has got problems with the tyres, he is not getting to grips with them."
Button admitted it will be "bloody hard" for anyone to challenge Vettel for the championship, while Webber and Ferrari's Fernando Alonso believe Red Bull could actually drive further away this weekend and beyond.
It is hoped the RB7 will be slowed at Silverstone by the blown exhaust clampdown, but Webber told the Daily Mail: "I'll be very surprised if the new rule changes the pecking order. My gut feeling is that they might even help us a bit."
And Alonso is quoted by Bild-Zeitung: "With the circuit characteristics of the coming races, Red Bull should definitely be better than the competition."
On his title hopes, he told formulasantander.com: "Being on average one second behind Red Bull all the time makes it impossible to come back."
Williams switches to Renault power for 2012
Williams will become Renault's fourth Formula One engine customer in 2012, the British team and the French marque announced on Monday.
Both sides said the deal covers the 2012 and 2013 seasons and possibly also 2014 and beyond when the sport switches to turbo V6s.
"We are already working on an extension for the new engine formula," confirmed Williams chief executive Adam Parr.
Williams, struggling this season with Cosworth power, won its last title with works Renault power in 1997.
"Williams has recently taken several important steps, both commercially and technically, to update its operations and we feel that this partnership is another important step in its rigorous plan," said Renault Sport F1 president Bernard Rey.
Virgin confirms McLaren tie-up
Virgin on Monday announced a technical tie-up with Formula One rival McLaren.
The "long term" deal will see the struggling new-in-2010 team be able to use McLaren's "facilities, knowledge and capabilities" including test rigs, simulator, staff and wind tunnel.
Virgin will however remain powered by Cosworth engines.
The team also announced that it has bought the F1 arm of its former technical partner Wirth, located in Banbury (UK).
"Pat Symonds has played a major part in determining (the team's) future technical direction and he will continue in this role going forward," said Virgin Racing.
Ecclestone threatens to sue FIA over engines
Bernie Ecclestone has threatened to step up his concerns about F1's future engine configuration by suing the governing FIA.
Although the teams and engine makers, concerned about the original four-cylinder regulations for 2013, have agreed a compromise in the form of a V6 specification for 2014, F1's chief executive and many key circuits remain unhappy.
Fearing the V6s will not sound as good as the current V8s, the circuit promoters last week threatened to boycott F1 in favour of hosting Indycar events.
And according to The Independent, Ecclestone is now threatening to sue the Jean Todt-led FIA.
Referring to the circuits, the 80-year-old said: "(They) believe these (new) engines will take away what people want when they go to formula one races - the glamour and the noise - and therefore they won't be able to sell the tickets and they won't be able to pay us.
"They have got a contract with me and if they can't honour it, because they aren't selling any tickets, I probably wouldn't hold them to it," added Ecclestone.
He warned that to safeguard F1's deals with the key circuits, "we may have to sue the FIA".
The situation has set up a worrying battle for the sport, with Ecclestone and the circuits on one side and the FIA aligned on the other with powerful teams like Ferrari.
Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo told La Gazzetta dello Sport: "The choice of a V6 turbo engine after 2014 is right and I'm glad that common sense prevailed. It shows that we are working together.
"When you don't stick your foot down in a ridiculous way you can achieve a lot in this sport," he added.
Ecclestone, meanwhile, scoffed at speculation the major teams - united through the FOTA umbrella - are considering buying into F1's commercial rights.
"Very few of them have got enough money to run their teams (let alone F1)," he said.
And FOTA chairman Martin Whitmarsh was asked whether he was referring to Ecclestone when he said F1 has had "pretty bad" management for the past twenty years.
"I'm not going to pick out Bernie, it's better I criticise myself," answered the McLaren team boss. "We are the third largest sporting spectacle in the world. We should be number one."
No regrets after saying no to Red Bull seat - Alonso
Fernando Alonso insists he does not regret turning down an offer a few seasons ago to move to Red Bull.
The Spaniard moved from Renault to Ferrari last season and battled for the title, but Red Bull won the championship and is now dominating in 2011 with clearly the best car.
Asked if he regrets snubbing Red Bull, 29-year-old Alonso - who has signed a long-term deal with Ferrari - said: "No, no.
"Perhaps I'd have three or four world championships, but I wouldn't be as happy as I am now nor would I be driving a Ferrari," he told formulasantander.com.
"I think that it is more important for a racing driver to drive for Ferrari than it is to have a world championship," he added.
Alonso also clarified that, whilst it is perceived that he clashed personally with Lewis Hamilton in 2007, he would be happy to once again share a team with the Briton.
"I have no problem with Hamilton and neither did we have one at McLaren. I have the absolute respect for him. As long as it wasn't at McLaren, sharing a team with Hamilton would be good," he said.
Alonso also said he would work alongside Sebastian Vettel.
"I don't have problems in sharing a team with anybody," he insisted. "I have been lucky to be with great drivers, although when they share with me it seems that they have lost speed and have become bad drivers."
Abu Dhabi delays F1 layout tweak until 2012
Organisers of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix have decided against immediately tweaking the layout of its F1 circuit.
Changes were considered after last year's processional season finale as Yas Marina, but postponed when the Pirelli tyres and 'DRS' system contributed to more exciting races so far in 2011.
"We (have) decided, rather than spend a whole lot of money making these changes, we'll wait and see how 2011 goes first," chief executive Richard Cregan told The National.
He said plans to amend the circuit can be easily rolled out in the future as they have been finalised and approved by designer Hermann Tilke.
"The plans are effectively postponed until we see how things go at this year's race," confirmed Cregan.
HRT confirms sale to Nomura/Thesan
HRT on Monday confirmed reports the Spanish team has been sold.
It was reported team owner Jose Ramon Carabante sold out to the Japanese industrial and financial group Nomura.
Hispania Racing confirmed in a statement that the Nomura-linked Spanish firm Thesan Capital is now the "main" and "controlling" shareholder of HRT.
The statement said Thesan will maintain "the current team and directors".
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