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The pendulum of power has swang once more, and with Alonso’s retirement in the first corner, it would seem the Spaniard would need to seek a favour or two from that Renault alternator again. As the tension grows towards the end of the season, the smallest of margins can mean the biggest of differences. Had Vettel being rightly punished for his block in qualifying, maybe he’d have been on the receiving end of Grosjean’s front wing, and had Alonso left Raikkonen an inch or two more, maybe he’d still be considered the favourite for the World Championship.
There are so many ‘what if’s’ in this sport, probably more than any other, and the slick Suzuka circuit has opened up yet more answerless questions. Ferrari’s pace, and rate of development probably towards the top of the list of puzzles. After impressively rolling out a B-spec of the F2012 earlier in the year within a couple of months, they’ve seemingly stalled, and the fact they brought three different specifications of a rear wing to Japan, proves they’re stabbing in the dark a little. They’re reported to be in such a mess that they’ve resorted to hiring out Toyota’s old establishment in Cologne to gather more reliable data.
Despite all the panic though, the much maligned Felipe Massa proved that it’s not exactly a box of neutrals, and an impressive second place just twenty seconds behind Vettel should serve encouragement to them. Fernando Alonso also claimed had it not being for the yellow flags, and the Vettel block, then he would have been on course for fourth place in qualifying. It’s easy to lose sight of things and panic, but they need not forget that there are still five rounds to go, including the unknown that is the Austin Grand Prix.
What Ferrari fans most realistic wish though, is probably not that Alonso mysteriously finds some extra pace in his car, that McLaren sort themselves out more consistently. Over the course of the season, McLaren have probably had the best overall car, but individual mistakes, mechanical failures and team mistakes have meant the wait for the next Championship will continue.
If they do hook the set-up right on the car, they can win pretty much any Grand Prix whether it be downforce based like Budapest, pure speed of Monza or the street circuit of Singapore. If they can start winning races, it will take the wins off of Sebastian Vettel, and mean Alonso can get closer to him, meaning the point deficit will be lower. The more races Vettel wins, the less chance Alonso has of winning this Championship.
Maybe the biggest problem with that though, will be remotivating Lewis Hamilton. Again, he didn’t look himself in Suzuka, and set up problems meant he was off the pace all weekend. The sight of seeing his new team flop to 13th and 15th in qualifying, and leave pointless probably didn’t exactly spark the smiles, but the sight of Perez launching his Sauber down the inside of him at the hairpin showed a more despondent Hamilton than we are used to .
The form and momentum is with Sebastian Vettel at the moment, and if he can win three of the five remaining races, I doubt anyone will be stopping that finger from being risen to the air come 25th November. It’s being his most difficult season in the sport, for once the Red Bull not being clearly the fastest car on the grid, but those mid-season gripes seem a long way away on the back of back-to-back wins.
Funnily enough the next race in Korea has only been won by our two championship contenders. The last two races have included a dose of rain, however the forecast is dry and sunny, which will raise the Red Bull’s spirits even more. The signature long straight, and twisty flowing end to the circuit should play nicely into Vettel’s hands, who has gone extremely well here in the last two seasons. Unlike Vettel though, the organisers will be hoping for a much better performance this year.
After many complaints last year about ticket sales, promised future infrastructure and unmaintained facilities, they need an attitude revamp if they’re going to convince the Formula 1 circus that this is the top quality circuit that it looks on our television screens. And with so many places on the scene as prospective and past locations for hosting a race, the pressures on them as much as it is our two great championship rivals.