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How McLaren could decide the championship
Thursday 01st November 2012, 21:17 by Daniel Chalmers
McLaren are effectively out of the title fight, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a big impact on the final outcome of the championship.
Unless something incredibly freakish happens the title battle is a straight duel between Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
However, where the McLarens finish in the final three races could end up deciding which one of the two title contenders comes out on top.
Despite a few poor races for McLaren they aren’t that far away from Red Bull’s pace. In India Lewis Hamilton was only 0.261 seconds off Vettel’s pole time.
In the last few events their true race pace has been masked by various problems.
In Japan Jenson Button started back in eighth due to a gearbox penalty so had to fight through the field. In that race Hamilton had an anti-roll bar issue which made life very difficult.
Then in Korea Lewis had a rear anti-roll bar failure but somehow still managed to finish the race in 10th. Button started down in 11th and got struck by Kamui Kobayashi so we didn’t see where he may have ended up.
In India neither Hamilton nor Button could get the soft tyres to work in the opening stint of the race. They were very strong on the hard tyre, but by then it was too late to have any real impact on the race.
McLaren will be developing their car right to the very end of the season. It won’t take much for them to be right on par with Red Bull again. It’s not as if they are a second down on the Milton Keynes squad.
A couple of tenths gained over the Milton Keynes squad may not seem like much, but could make a huge difference.
Over a 55 lap race (which will be the race length in Abu Dhabi), a gain of two tenths per lap over Red Bull, would mean a gain of 11 seconds over the whole race distance. That’s certainly enough to get McLaren back in contention for victory.
Also what if McLaren could get Double DRS working on their car? That would be half a second’s worth of performance (in quail trim at least) that Red Bull wouldn’t be able to find, because they already have it. That would throw a huge spanner in the works.
In the all-important title deciding races the McLaren drivers could influence how many points; Vettel and Alonso lose or gain on one another.
Ideally the two title protagonists want to win races and have the McLarens finish directly behind them. For example, if Alonso won in Abu Dhabi with McLarens second and third with Vettel fourth, Fernando would score 13 points more than Sebastian. That would put Alonso level on points with Sebastian in the championship
On the other hand it could be Vettel that benefits from where Hamilton and Button finish. Swap Sebastian and Fernando in the scenario outlined above, and the young German would end up with a more commanding lead in the championship. His lead would go from 13 points to a very commanding 26 points.
Another scenario is that McLaren could take over the top two positions, and prevent both Alonso and Vettel from taking the biggest chunks of points on offer.
That could work both for and against them. Let’s imagine McLaren do in fact finish 1-2 with Vettel and Alonso finishing together in third and fourth.
From Alonso’s point of view it wouldn’t be too bad. It means he would only score three less points than his rival. From Sebastian’s point of view, whilst it would be great to finish ahead of Fernando, he would only score three more points than him.
At the moment you sense McLaren are the most likely team to out-qualify Red Bull. Red Bull is in a very strong position when they lead from the front. However in the race their lack of straight line speed means, that they would be in big trouble if they don’t exit turn one in first place.
Having a McLaren in front would stop Red Bull from being able to dictate the pace of the race, and creating a gap in the opening laps of the race.
Being held up by a McLaren would also potentially put Vettel into Alonso’s clutches. With Ferrari’s straight line speed advantage, Alonso could potentially make the most of Vettel being held up by a McLaren in front.
It could give him the chance to leapfrog him through strategy, or maybe even open up an overtaking opportunity on the track.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that even though Hamilton and Button are out of the championship they both still want to win races. Lewis in particular would love to win again before he bids farewell to McLaren. Furthermore you sense that many of the F1 drivers would rather see Alonso win the title rather than Vettel.
Therefore Hamilton and Button will have no qualms about taking the fight to Sebastian to try and win races. If they can put immense pressure on the championship leader, there is every chance it could end up playing in Alonso’s hands somehow.
Lastly in the final race of the season wouldn’t it be exciting if either Vettel or Alonso had to overtake one of the McLarens in order to win the title.
So whilst McLaren may not have a chance of winning the title, they could still hold the key to who wins it.
As things stand the scenario that is most likely to apply for Alonso, is that the McLarens will continue to be between himself and Sebastian and make matters even tougher.
So like he did in India he needs to get past then quickly in the race or he needs to hope that McLaren can exit turn 1 ahead of Vettel, and therefore ruin his progress to open up opportunities for the Spaniard.
That’s unless Ferrari can pull a rabbit out of the hat, and seriously improve their one lap pace. There is certainly no doubt that Ferrari have very strong race pace, and can challenge on that front. They just have to get into a position to utilise it.