While many Alonso fans were saying that Brazil was the race where the Spaniard could sew up his third world title, it was not to be. Instead, the Red Bull squad put their stamp on the event, as if that were simply the natural order of things. Although Williams driver Nico Hulkenberg was able to capture pole, doing an exemplary job of getting heat into his tires in changing conditions, once the red lights went dark he quickly ceded his primary position to Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, who essentially controlled the race from the first lap onward.
It was Vettel leading Webber for the remainder of the race. Many would have it that this was the natural order of things as well. For, complain as he might about being relegated to number two, irrespective of the team’s insistance to the contrary, Mark Webber has generally been a shade slower and a shade less brilliant than his younger team mate.
One of the speculations hovering over this race was whether or not Vettel would move over and let Webber through, to support the Aussie’s title bid. All things being equal, it’s Webber who had the better chance of overtaking Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso for the points lead. But are all things equal?
Vettel still has a mathematical chance of winning the title. Stranger things have happened in title races, and it’s quite possible that Vettel has no desire to help Webber become the first title winner for Red Bull, rather than himself. Answer to the above question: a resounding no. And what if the shoe had been on the other foot, and Vettel had been in the points lead? Would Webber have been asked to move over? Three guesses and the first two don’t count.
The Red Bulls have been the class of the field at most of this year’s venues, the only exceptions being tracks such as Monza where pure straight line speed is more of a factor. Therefore it was to be expected that they’d have the edge at Interlagos. And as has been the case at most of the recent races, the driver who was nipping at their heels was Fernando Alonso.
In Korea, Alonso’s lurking game paid off. He waited for the race to come to him, saving his engine and tires, and was rewarded with a crash from Webber and a blown engine from Vettel. In Brazil, the Red Bull boys managed to avoid such mishaps, but Alonso managed to retain his points lead nonetheless, having only three points shaved from his margin over Webber in the process.
The McLaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button came in fourth and fifth in the race, and if nothing else their results decided two things: Lewis Hamilton still has a shot (however long) at grabbing the title, and Button doesn’t. One suspects that Button’s year at Brawn will remain the pinacle of his career, and if he finishes his F1 life at McLaren it will be in Hamilton’s shadow.
Behind the McLarens were the Mercedes drivers, Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher. While Schumi managed to qualify well ahead of Rosberg, it was Rosberg who managed to make up the gap. Rosberg actually managed to finish ahead of Schumacher, although it was later revealed that Schumacher had let him through, as Rosberg had fresher tires, and it was thought that he might stand a better chance of catching and overtaking Button, although it never happened.
The next race in Abu Dhabi will be for all the marbles. Alonso doesn’t have to win to take the prize, he merely has to maintain a margin over Webber. Alonso has been in this situation before, and Webber hasn’t. We’ve seen Webber choke under pressure (most recently in Korea), whereas Alonso has sealed the deal for the title twice before in his career, and he’s been nothing this year of not a cool customer. Smart money might be on Alonso, although the way this season has been going, anything could happen.
One thing that can be said: this has been one of the most exciting F1 seasons in a long while. The new points system has amplified the drama, and one has to wonder (yet again) what Bernie Ecclestone has been smoking when he continues to prattle on about implementing a medals system in place of traditional points. Then again, this is the man who has praised Hitler as a man who got things done.