The Red Bulls had lost their magic. The other sharpenders where catching. There was a glimmer of hope, a chance that this WDC could go down to the wire like 2010. That was until Seb decided he fancied the top spot again. Red Bull’s 1-2 in soggy ol’ Belgium was seen by some as the endgame. “WDC over!” they say. But they are wrong. While improbably, there is still a chance someone can take it to Vettel. I pipped the McLarens (specifically Lewis) for this role, and have been sorely disappointed. Button had the raw pace on Sunday to take the fight to the Bulls. He had the will, and the ability to win. Actually, I’m almost sure he would have (although unpublished, I did pick Button to win over Lewis), but McLaren have shown their weakness once again.
Somehow Button believed he had another lap to go when the checkered flag dropped, and wasn’t able to set a flying lap to get out of Q2. This put him behind Senna and the Torro Rosso cars. As we know now, someone must have told Bruno that the car in front of him was driven by Prost, because we were soon treated to a Renault-Rosso pileup. Bits flew, and JB was left with a damaged wing, no right mirror, and loaded pants following a near miss involving carbon fiber and his face.
Conversely, Lewis seemed to be set up perfectly to beat Seb. While he lacked straight up speed, his performance in the corners was enough to compensate. But once again, fortune didn’t favor the bold overtaker. We found out that Hamilton is apparently a big fan of Kobayashi, as he went over to give him a hug just before the chicane. Kobayashi engaged anti-hug-judo-mode and Lewis got his second DNF of the year.
Ferrari seemed to do decent when they weren’t (in the words of the great Martin Brundle) “going hard.” To his credit, Massa had a good qualifying result which, if their Twitter account is to be believed, Ferrari didn’t notice. Fernando wasn’t having the best of weekends, and it looked as though Massa was set for a decent result, but getting passed left and right and punctures don’t really make for good finishes.
So where does that leave us? With seven races left, 175 points are still up for grabs. This narrows the WDC contenders down to just five drivers. We have Vettel, Webber, Alonso, Button, and Hamilton still in the mix, while it is mathematically impossible for Massa and back to win it. The following is my opinion on who can do what to take the fight to Vettel, starting with the man himself. A note on the “Vettel Must Place” line. This is assuming two things. First, that Seb constantly finishes in that place. I could run all the possible combinations of outcomes, but that would be boring. I’ve included how many points he must get on average so you have some idea. Secondly, this assumes the driver in question takes the win every race.
Driver: Sebastian Vettel
Gap to First: 0
Chances of Taking it: Uber
Seb drove a flawless race in Spa. He was untouchable in the early season, and while he wasn’t 20 hours ahead this time, he never had to work for it. It was a brilliant effort by Red Bull, and the WDC has never looked more secure.
Driver: Mark Webber
Gap to First: 92
Vettel Must Place: Below 4th (average 11.86 points per race)
Chances of Taking it: None
Webber is Seb’s closest rival right now. Sunday’s 1-2 showed the Aussie still has pace to keep up with Vettel, and was catching him in the later stages of the GP (which was probably from Vettel taking it easy, but one can dream). The problem is, Red Bull have shown they are not above team orders, despite what Horner said in 2010. Even if Vettel somehow gets reeled in, chances are Webber would get the call on the radio telling him to pull back. On that though, I should have listed his chances of “taking it” as high. Poor Webbo…
Driver: Fernando Alonso
Gap to First: 102
Vettel Must Place: ~Below 5th (average 10.43 per race)
Chances of Taking it: Low
Alonso is creeping his way up closer to the top with consistent finishes in the top end of the points. While he must be commended for his consistency, it’s not enough right now. The gap to Vettel is too big. To take the title, Alonso must pull something out, and fast. Pressure to win in Monza, followed by a soft/super-soft combo in Singapore may just save Fernando’s chances, but it depends on what tires are brought to every race from there on. Ferrari cannot keep pace with the medium tire, and if it’s used too much Ferrari can kiss their chances goodbye.
Driver: Jenson Button
Gap to First: 110
Vettel Must Place: Below 5th (average 9.28 points per race)
Chances of Taking it: Medium
I’m putting all my hopes on Jenson right now. The gap may be bigger than Alonso’s, but JB’s form in the last few races astounds me. He is on the ball, consistent, and clearly the man to beat for second place. The team need to work out some issues (knowing how many laps remain in quali, learning how to tighten a wheel nut), but if these things are ironed out expect Jenson right up there.
Driver: Lewis Hamilton
Gap to First: 113
Vettel Must Place: Below 5th (8.85 points per race)
Chances of Taking it: None
As much as it pains me to say it, Lewis is out of the race for the WDC title. True, mathematically it is possible, but the chances of Webber overtaking Seb are low enough. Vettel only needs two wins and a 4th to knock Hamilton out of the running. Additionally, Lewis cannot translate consistent pace into consistent driving. Even after a long break, a chance to refocus, Lewis is still making mistakes that make him look like more like Petrov, not like a world champion. If he’s not being aggressive to the point of stupidity (Monaco, Hungary spin) he is being rammed by psychotic Venezuelans. Here’s to hoping for a bright 2012.