Webber on the way up?

DESPITE patchy form in his chase for the 2001 FIA Formula 3000 title, Australian Mark Webber is determined to secure a Formula 1 berth next year and so is his manager, Flavio Briatore.

Webber, who lost ground on championship leader Justin Wilson in Germany after an incident-strewn appearance, is currently the test driver for Briatore's Benetton Renault squad and has the full backing of Briatore in going for the top rung of the ladder in Formula 1.

"Flavio said at the weekend that he would like to have me in F1 next year and he would do his best to find me a seat," Webber said. "I've just got to keep my head down and keep focused."

It appears that Webber's chances will be greatly assisted if, as is expected, Renault supplies a second team with its engines next season. Prost Grand Prix may swap a stake in the team for an engine deal, as it is struggling to meet the costs of the current season with a dearth of sponsorship funds and a $26 million bill for its supply of Ferrari engines, but Webber wouldn't specify where he thought he might end up.

"You never know, I could be in a Minardi," he said. "It depends on what's bolted onto the back of the chassis. Renault haven't given any vibes at all as to whether they would support another team. All the team bosses know each other pretty well and we are the pawns in a big game of chess who get moved around so hopefully I'm in there somewhere!"

Webber also cast doubt on whether Jenson Button will hold on to his Benetton seat when the team metamorphoses into Renault Sport over this winter. "He is hanging on by his fingernails and has had a hard time blending in at Benetton. Jenson will come out of it okay, he's a good driver but in his second season the pressure is on."

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