Four-way title battle 'fantastic' for F1 says Bernie Ecclestone, as Fernando Alonso leads way

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Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone has called the 2010 season "fantastic" and said the four-way battle for the championship has been good for the sport.

Championship leader Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso has the best chance to claim the title, but Red Bull rivals Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel are only eight and 15 points behind, while Britain's Lewis Hamilton of McLaren is 24 points back. It is the first time in the sport's history that four drivers are still in contention ahead of the last race. "It's been fantastic hasn't it?" said Ecclestone. "It's wonderful."

McLaren's Lewis Hamilton led his three fellow title contenders in the second practice session yesterday at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Hamilton clocked 1 minute, 40.888 seconds on the Yas Marina circuit, making him 0.257 seconds quicker than the Red Bull of Sebastian Vettel.

"The car feels good, so I'm hopeful for a good qualifying result tomorrow afternoon," Hamilton said. "Our pace is closer to (Red Bull's) than it's ever been. Of all the weekends this year, this time I really feel like we really do have the right package to challenge the fastest cars."

Alonso and Webber finished the session in third and fourth place respectively as darkness fell. The four title contenders were divided by 0.427 seconds.

"That wasn't bad, the car felt strong early afternoon, although tonight it was a bit different due to the conditions," Vettel said. "I think there is some lap time still to gain, so we will analyse things now and hopefully pick up some pace (in qualifying)."

Webber said: "A good day, (the) usual suspects were at the top. Lewis had run a pretty good lap. It feels like a normal weekend, but obviously there's a lot more at stake."

Hamilton was involved in a minor incident when he brushed the side of the side of Bruno Senna's HRT as he turned into the pit lane. The incident will be investigated, but it looked accidental and Hamilton was only reprimanded. "My visit to the stewards was just to explain what happened out on track," Hamilton said. "It was a bit of a misunderstanding, he was trying to start his lap and I was trying to come into the pits."

Vettel was fastest in the first practice, with Hamilton second. Hamilton's time in the later session was nearly two seconds quicker than Vettel's earlier mark of 1:42.760, when racers were far more cautious due to a heavy rain shower early in the day.Webber was fourth in both sessions, while Alonso improved from sixth place in his first run.

Defending champion Jenson Button was fined 1,000 euros for speeding in the pit lane.

Meanwhile, Michael Schumacher believes he has rediscovered the joy of driving in Formula 1 again despite a wretched comeback year.

Schumacher's abysmal form on his return out of retirement sparked suggestions he would walk away from the sport for a second time.

But with the current campaign due to end in Abu Dhabi, the seven-time world champion is already looking forward to what he hopes will be a much improved second season with Mercedes. In many respects Schumacher cannot wait to put this year behind him as he is ninth in the championship with just 72 points, 58 behind team-mate Nico Rosberg.

"Quite clearly I'm happier with where the car is going right now, so I'm predicting a reasonable result for here," said Schumacher. "More importantly I have my joy again, in comparison to mid-season when it was a bit more tough.

"But knowing where we are at the end of the day and where we want to be, then yes, I am looking forward to the end of this season. I am also looking forward to next year's car, to get going with this as soon as possible in order to understand if all our views and ideas are going in the right direction."