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F1 drivers pay tribute to Wheldon and Simoncelli

By Alan Baldwin

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Formula One drivers Jenson Button and Mark Webber will pay a special tribute to late British racer and friend Dan Wheldon at this weekend's inaugural Indian Grand Prix after a grim month for motorsport.

Wheldon, a former racetrack rival of both McLaren's Button and Red Bull's Webber, was killed in a fiery 15 car pileup at the season-ending IndyCar race in Las Vegas on October 16.

The following weekend, flamboyant Italian MotoGP rider Marco Simoncelli died when he fell and was struck by other bikes at the Malaysian Grand Prix.

Button said he would be wearing a black armband and also have Wheldon's DW logo on the top of his helmet, as will Australian Webber.

"I sent Jenson a text after the (last F1) race in Korea and I told him I wanted to get some stickers made up for our helmets," Webber told reporters.

"I asked him if he was keen and he said he was. It's a nice little sticker because we both knew him. It's only natural he is part of us a little this weekend."

Button, 31, raced against Wheldon in the early years of his career and recalled the good times they had together in Britain.

"It's a massive tragedy. I have so many memories of racing with Dan," he said.

"I hadn't seen him for about a year and a half, he was living in the States....but when I was nine years old I remember with Dan, he had the big number one on his kart as the British champion.

"It was Dan, myself and Anthony (Davidson) that pretty much won everything.

"Some really, really good memories. He was the guy I was always trying to beat, basically. He's the guy that got me motivated to get out there and fight. It's a massive loss for motorsport but you've got to take the good memories from it.

"He'll definitely be in our thoughts this weekend when we are racing here."

Red Bull's double world champion Sebastian Vettel met Simoncelli earlier in the year and said he had watched his television in horror as the Italian crashed.

"I wasn't a very close friend, but I knew him. I met him this year and it is horrible to wait and wait and wait, because you know yourself that it is not normally a good sign if you have to wait so long to get an answer on what has happened," he told reporters.

"I think we should always try to make things safer and we will get criticized for the cars being too far away, the run offs being too big and so on," added the German.

"But on the other hand we never want to put ourselves in a situation like all the MotoGP riders are going through now, or the IndyCar series is going through now."

Ferrari's Fernando Alonso said he too had watched as Simoncelli crashed but added that riders and drivers knew the risks they were taking.

"We love racing, and we know that it is dangerous," said the Spaniard, whose team were considering what sort of tribute to pay to the Italian rider.

"When we are at 320 kph, which will be more or less the maximum speed here in this track, if something happens with the car there is the risk that you probably have a big accident.

"But it is impossible to think about that with emotion, and the feeling that you have, driving at that speed. So even if we know the risk, we love our sport."

(Editing by Mark Meadows; For Reuters sports blog Left Field go to: http://blogs.reuters.com/sport)