Preview - F1 title on a knife's edge
Lewis Hamilton’s victory in Sunday’s US Grand Prix - his fourth win of the season - made it clear that all things being fair the McLaren driver should have been part of a three-way title battle going into this weekend’s season finale in Brazil.
But lady luck waylaid him with five non-finishes this season while Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso failed to score in only two races apiece, and so we’re left with a two-way dice in a field contested by an unprecedented six world champions.
Vettel eked out a further three-point advantage over Alonso in Austin, in a hard-fought race. In a stirring display of two drivers at the top of their game, Hamilton narrowly won after he and Vettel threw everything but the kitchen sink at each other as they raced nose to tail and traded fastest laps for the duration of the Grand Prix.
Alonso delivered another of his typically gritty drives to finish third - from seventh on the grid - to stay in title contention. However, with a 13-point deficit to Vettel going into Brazil, it may be a tough hill to climb even for the never-say-die Spaniard.
He would require a victory, with Vettel finishing fifth or lower, to steal the title from under the Red Bull driver’s nose. For the Ferrari driver it’s a case of the podium or bust; anything lower than third place for Alonso and the champion trophy’s out of reach, even if Vettel fails to finish the race.
Many feel that Alonso would be the more deserving champion, based on a perception that he’s dragged a less-than-competitive car kicking and screaming into championship contention. But to call Vettel undeserving would be unfair as he’s maximised the potential of his Red Bull in a way that his team mate Mark Webber - who lies a distant fifth in the championship - has been unable to.
SIMILAR RACE PACE
The Ferrari is slower than the Red Bull in qualifying but there’s very little difference in the two teams’ race pace, while reliability seems to be in the Scuderia’s favour.
Red Bull and Renault will be working flat out to ensure Vettel doesn’t go into this weekend’s title showdown with a “ticking time bomb” inside his car after the team’s third alternator failure of the season last weekend, which caused Webber’s retirement while he was running in third place. Similar failures took Vettel out of the European Grand Prix in Valencia while he was leading, and at Monza in Italy while he was sixth.
Alonso, whose Ferrari has been one of the most reliable cars on the grid, recognised Red Bull’s weak spot and was hopeful that it might be Vettel’s turn to be vulnerable in Brazil.
“We saw today again that Webber retired, sometimes it is the alternator, sometimes it’s the KERS, sometimes it’s the brakes. It always happens to that car so maybe in Brazil it changes cars,” said the Spaniard.