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Hamilton isn't out yet, but Alonso still favourite
Wednesday 26th September 2012, 22:05 by Daniel Chalmers
The trio of title challengers (© XPB.CC)
Looking at the championship table it now looks like a two horse race between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso, but Lewis is still an extremely strong threat.
Clearly Singapore was a huge blow to Lewis. Instead of potentially gaining 13 points on Alonso (if Lewis had won and Fernando finished fourth), he dropped back by 15 points. 52 points is a lot to make up with just six races remaining, but it’s still feasible when you have the quickest car beneath you.
Let’s look first at who is definitely out of the championship. Jenson Button is definitely out of it, and from his post Singapore quotes you sense he now knows it. A gap equivalent to three race wins is going to be near impossible to make up in just six races.
At 61 points behind Alonso, Webber looks nearly out of it too. His form has dropped off dramatically since he renewed his contract with Red Bull. With Vettel now just 29 points behind Alonso, Webber will probably be made to support his team mate's title bid.
During the Singapore GP Red Bull looked as if they were already using Mark as a guinea pig to help Sebastian’s chances. By pitting Webber earlier than Vettel, it gave Red Bull a good reading on how a new set of soft tyres performed to help Seb's race.
At 45 points behind Alonso, Raikkonen isn’t completely out of the running yet, but it does now look very unlikely. The problem for Lotus is that they still need a certain track configuration, and track temperature in order to get the best out of their car. They haven’t been particularly competitive since they last struck their ideal combination in the Hungarian GP.
The E20 works best on a circuit dominated by fast and/or long corners, and boiling hot track temperatures. In Suzuka they will get the fast corners but the question is will they get the heat they require? Korea and Austin could also be decent tracks if the temperature allows.
You also have to wonder whether their revolutionary Double DRS device has been a bit of a distraction from development on the rest of the car.
The debut of that device in Japan and other major upgrades could give the team a significant gain. The key thing is that the E20 needs to become much more versatile, not just gain more speed.
It’s likely that Lotus will have two or three more very strong races in 2012, but it’s very hard to see them going on a long consistent run, which is what they would need.
Hamilton has a big gap to make up. However he is still in this championship fight. McLaren now clearly have the quickest car. What’s more important is that it is consistently quick in every track condition. This has been the case since the Hockenheim upgrades.
It was the quickest car in the slow corners in Singapore. It was quick in the fast corners in Spa, and down the long blasts of Monza.
The car was equally as fast in the cool conditions experienced in Spa as it was in the hot conditions in Hungary.
No matter what the circuit or the conditions the MP4-27 is now a very formidable package. Providing no more reliability issues are experienced, Hamilton could potentially win all the remaining six races. He is perhaps still a stronger threat to Alonso than Vettel despite the Singapore setback.
If Lewis did win the last six races, Alonso would need at least three second and three third places to stay ahead. Not an easy task when you consider Button is now back on form, and there are so many other competitive cars out there.
Of course reliability is going to be a big concern. The question is whether McLaren’s recent unreliability is down to how hard they have pushed development, or just a case of a couple of isolated problems.
If it’s the former then chances are more problems will strike, similar to the way they did in 2005. That was the last time McLaren clearly had consistently the best car, and poor reliability cost them both championships. This is the biggest threat right now.
Vettel is now well back in the title hunt, but can the RB8 help him really take the fight to Alonso?
On paper the Marina Bay circuit was the ideal track for the RB8. The car has been at its best in slow speed corners all year. This can be proved by Webber’s win in Monaco, and Vettel’s pace in Valencia and Montreal. In Singapore not only are there slow corners, but loads of them (23 to be precise).
Furthermore there are no significant straights, which is even more of a bonus considering the team’s lack of straight line speed. Out of the remaining races Singapore was probably Red Bull’s best circuit on paper. Even so, McLaren still had the quicker car. Hamilton was on cruise control at the front in the race, and could have gone faster if he needed to.
There should still be a few tracks left where Red Bull should be strong such as India, Abu Dhabi and Brazil. However there is nowhere where they are likely to be any stronger than they were in Singapore. No other track is as good a match for the RB8 as Singapore.
The team are also still sensitive to track temperature unlike McLaren and Ferrari who are now performing well in any temperature. Simply put it's difficult to see Vettel going on a long race winning run in the last six races, unless Red Bull come up with some very good upgrades/changes.
Ferrari weren’t at their most competitive in Singapore, but despite that Alonso still had enough underneath him to score a vital podium.
On paper Singapore wasn’t the strongest track for the F2012. This along with the fact it was one of Red Bull’s strongest tracks exaggerated the gap between the pair last weekend.
Looking at the remaining tracks Ferrari should be quite competitive. The car is very strong in fast corners as we saw in Catalunya and Silverstone. Suzuka, Korea and Austin all feature quick corners too.
Abu Dhabi is perhaps the only other place the track configuration won’t be brilliant for Ferrari, with slow speed corners being the dominant feature as it was in Singapore.
In terms of temperature Ferrari have performed well whatever the temperature has been. Plus more importantly it is a great wet weather car, certainly in Alonso’s hands anyway.
Out of the three weekends where competitive action has been affected by rain Alonso has scored 68 points out of a possible 75.
There is always a strong chance of rain in Japan, Korea, India and Brazil. One of those races at least is bound to be wet, so that could very well settle the title in Fernando’s favour.
Overall as has been the case for a long time now Alonso is still the overwhelming favourite for the title, despite a slight wobble of late. If Lewis hadn’t broken down at the weekend he would now be a major threat to Alonso.
Now he is further back the threat isn't so dangerous, but the threat definitely still lingers. Lewis and McLaren are currently more than capable of going on a long winning streak if reliability allows. However one more DNF and it would be curtains.
Vettel is now a bigger threat in the title race but he will need his Red Bull to be much more versatile/consistent than it has been of late, or for Alonso to have a disaster.
Whichever way you look at it Fernando still has one hand on that driver’s trophy.