Analysis: Who deserves the championship most?

Tuesday 06th November 2012, 20:06 by Daniel Chalmers 

Fernando Alonso vs. Sebastian Vettel

The championship is now mathematically just down to Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, but who deserves the title the most?

It’s the question that fans ask every time the title goes right down to the wire.

We are going to rate each of the contender’s 2012 performances using eight different categories: Qualifying pace, race pace, race craft, wet weather driving, comeback ability, comparison to team mate, mistakes and consistency.

For qualifying and race pace, Vettel and Alonso will be given a rating out of 20. For every other category they will be given a rating out of 10.

In the end this will conveniently give us a total out of a maximum of 100.

Qualifying Pace

Before penalties are taken into account Vettel is 12-6 up on Alonso in qualifying this year.

Vettel has had mixed fortunes over a single lap this year. There have been times when we have seen his one lap form from last year. However there have also been times when he has struggled slightly.

On days when the car has worked well we have seen him at his usual best. He did brilliant pole laps in Bahrain, Canada, Valencia, Japan, and India. As usual on days like that it’s a pleasure to watch his laps onboard, and witness the amount of commitment he has in each corner.

However there have been some disappointing performances, where Mark Webber has got the better of him. Webber got the better of Vettel in each of the first three qualifying sessions of the year. At the moment on Saturdays it’s 12-8 in Vettel’s favour. So it’s been quite competitive between the pair in actual fact.

Qualifying has been a major weakness for Ferrari this year. However Fernando has wrestled his car to decent grid slots all year long. He has qualified in the top six 11 times out of 18. This is good going given the car. Also he has extracted much more from the car on Saturday, than team mate Felipe Massa has been able to.

In the wet qualifying sessions in Britain and Germany, when car disadvantage was less of an issue, Alonso drove to pole both times.

Race Pace

Vettel’s starting slots may have been a bit varied this season but he has always produced in the races. His ability to keep life in his tyres always makes him a factor on Sundays. When he has started further back he has generally always gone forward.

This was evident right from the start of the season, when he started sixth in Australia and finished second. In races like Korea and India he left his opposition behind. Webber is a quick driver so to leave him behind at the rate of a few tenths per lap, shows that the young German has incredible pace.

Alonso’s race pace has been simply staggering. At practically every race he has pulled a rabbit out of the hat. He has spent a season producing results which just shouldn’t be possible. Let’s use Abu Dhabi as an example. It was probably the worse type of track for this Ferrari. Rather than finishing fifth or sixth (the kind of result Ferrari deserved that weekend) Fernando almost managed to win the race.

Red Bull was dominant in India but despite starting behind the McLarens, he managed to finish between them. He didn’t have the quickest car in either Valencia or Germany but he managed to win both those races.

At every race this season it’s hard imagine that Alonso could have achieved anything more than the results he managed to get.

Race Craft

Vettel has always been under fire for his wheel to wheel racing ability, but this has arguably been his best season in terms of overtaking. Throughout this season Alonso has made some incredibly risky moves on drivers and made them stick.

Here are how many overtakes both contenders have made this season (with special thanks to www.cliptheapex.com). Please note that this doesn’t include passes executed on the first lap of the race.

Alonso – 36
Vettel – 51

As you can see Seb has made more overtakes. However his total of 18 passes in Abu Dhabi does skew that to some extent.

Although Vettel has had some easy races at the front, where he has had to do no overtaking he has also done some brilliant passes. One of his best was the pass around the outside of Nico Rosberg into turn six in Melbourne, which isn’t normally a great passing place.

Also his do or die move on Button in the closing stages of the Abu Dhabi GP was very impressive given the risk involved. If Vettel got that wrong his championship may have ended up in tatters.

Spa also proved his racing ability. He overtook a number of cars including his own team mate. Given the lack of straight line speed he had in that race, it was a remarkable racing performance.

Alonso has been winning points through great overtaking all season. He did an incredible move around the outside of Romain Grosjean into turn one in Valencia among other risky passes in that race. In the Korean, Indian, and Abu Dhabi GPs he executed bold moves on the first lap of each of those races. That move on the outside of Webber in Abu Dhabi was especially brave.

He also effortlessly overtook a number of cars during his fight back from tenth in Monza. With the car that Alonso has had to drive this year he has also had to fend off cars too. We saw this in Germany as he was defending the lead against Button to name one example. In situations like that he never buckles under the pressure.

In general there are two or three of Alonso’s moves this year that stand out, hence why he just edges this category.

Wet Weather Driving

So far in 2012 we have only had three weekends where a competitive session has been affected by rain. This was the race in Malaysia and qualifying in Britain and Germany.

Here are the points that Vettel and Alonso scored over those three race weekends where rain has hit a competitive session.

Alonso: 68/75
Vettel 25/75

Alonso has used every bit of wet running this season to absolute perfection. With a car that isn’t the fastest, he knows that he has to make sure he capitalises every time it rains which he has done. Wet weather is a great leveller and driver skill comes to the fore.

In each wet session he couldn’t possibly have done any better. He won the Malaysian GP and got pole position in both Britain and Germany.

Vettel’s fortunes on the other hand have been mixed in wet conditions. His wet performances have been solid rather than spectacular. He qualified second in Germany and fourth in Britain. He was running fourth in Sepang before his incident with Narain Karthikeyan.

Comeback Ability

The points a driver scores in a race where they have to fight through the field are often the key ones in a championship. Both Vettel and Alonso have done very good comeback drives this season.

Here are the point’s they have rescued from their three worse grid slots this season

Alonso (12th, 11th, 10th) – 50/75
Vettel (24th, 11th, 10th) – 43/75

Alonso’s qualifying results haven’t been great this year, so we have seen quite a few comebacks from him. The ones that stand out are Monza and Valencia.

In Monza he started down in 10th due to a reliability issue in qualifying. In that race he impressively drove through the field and ended up on the podium. In Valencia he got knocked out in Q2, but somehow he managed to win the race on a track that is notoriously hard to pass on.

In Australia where he started down in 12th and fought back to fifth, when his Ferrari was an absolute dog to drive was equally as impressive.

Vettel has also had some great comebacks too. His drive in Abu Dhabi from the pit lane to third was supreme. There was a bit of luck involved as well, but you always need that when you start so far back.

In Spa Sebastian was down in 12th place after the first lap and finished second. He made his way through the field with a series of good passes in the bus stop chicane. In Monaco he started 10th and finished fourth thanks to a great first long stint on the hard tyre. In China he did well to finish fifth after starting down in 11th.

Comparison To Team Mate

Felipe Massa and Mark Webber are the two drivers who we can truly measure Alonso and Vettel against, as their respective team mates. The gulf between Massa and Alonso has been gigantic this season, whereas at times it’s been tight between Vettel and Webber.

Here is the qualifying comparison

Vettel - 10 | Webber - 8
Alonso - 17 | Massa - 1

In qualifying it’s been very close between the two Red Bull drivers. Certainly when the car wasn’t as good at the start of the year, it was often Webber who got more out of the car. On the other hand Alonso has thrashed Massa over a single lap. The only time Felipe out-qualified Alonso was thanks to a technical problem on the Spaniard’s car.

Here is the percentage of their team mate’s points Webber and Massa have scored.

Webber – 65.5%
Massa – 38.7%

Again this shows that Alonso has been on an entirely different planet to Massa this year. Webber has done much better against Vettel. Although Vettel’s margin over Webber can still be classed as reasonably comfortable.

It is worth noting that on current form Webber represents sterner opposition than Massa. Vettel hasn’t destroyed Webber like Alonso has done to Massa. However given Mark’s talent, to beat him, like Seb has done over 18 races is highly commendable.

Mistakes

Looking back over the season Vettel and Alonso have hardly made any major errors. Here is an estimate of how many points they have both lost from mistakes.

Alonso – 15
Vettel – 17

As you can see it’s a pretty low amount for both drivers.  Alonso’s only major mistake of the season was at the start in Japan, when he should have given Kimi Raikkonen a bit more space. Chances are had he made turn one he would gone on to achieve a podium. In Melbourne he spun off in Q2. However, even if he hadn’t made that error, he probably wouldn’t have finished higher than the fifth he earnt in the race.

So all in all Japan was the only race where Alonso suffered a loss of points due to a mistake. Considering he has had to push beyond the limit all year long, it’s amazing that Fernando has only made a couple of errors in 2012.

Vettel’s only real major error was the clash with Narain Karthikeyan in Malaysia. Whilst a fair portion of the blame quite rightly goes on Narain’s shoulders, Vettel could have avoided the collision by leaving more room.

In Hockenheim Vettel overtook Jenson Button for second by going over the track boundary. It was arrogant of him to think that he wouldn’t get penalised for it. Had he just let Jenson back through he would have easily got him fairly on the next lap, as Button’s tyres were going off.

A couple of other little mistakes from Sebastian were being too aggressive defending against Alonso at Monza, which incurred a drive through. It didn’t cost him though as he retired from the race anyway. Also he damaged his front wing in the opening stages of Abu Dhabi. Although that inadvertently put him on the right strategy so he didn’t really lose out there either.

Consistency

Both Vettel and Alonso have had consistent seasons. Despite having a car that has been off the pace most of the time, Alonso has managed to finish on the podium 12 times in 18 races. That is incredible consistency in an average car.

It’s amazing the number of times Alonso has got a result better than his car deserves. Most drivers in that position will manage to achieve that two or three times, but most of the time won’t be able to extract anything extra.

When Red Bull has struggled Vettel has produced plucky drives, and still consistently scored big chunks of points. When the team turned the corner in Singapore he went on a run of four consecutive wins. He might have had the best car over those races but, you still have to get the job done, make no mistakes and beat your team mate.

There are drivers who in fast cars still haven’t been able to produce consistent runs like that in the past.

Conclusion

The final result is as follows:

Many say Alonso deserves the title much more than Vettel. If Sebastian were to win the title he would certainly deserve it, as he has delivered plenty of impressive performances this year.

He has raced better than most give him credit for, and has consistently scored good points, even when Red Bull haven’t quite been on top form. When the car has been at his best he hasn’t ever failed to deliver.

He has had to battle hard this year and this would certainly be his best title. At the end of the day 78/100 in this analysis is an extremely good score. 78 is higher than any driver scored in the same type of analysis of the 2008 and 2010 championship battles.

Whilst he would be a worthy champion you run out of superlatives to describe Alonso’s season. In a car that has generally been off the pace all season he has performed miracle after miracle. There have been so many races, where he has got a result which he just shouldn’t have been able to achieve given his equipment.

Normally it’s the driver with the best overall car that wins the driver’s championship. It’s very rare that we see a driver challenge for the title that has on occasion been a long way off the ultimate pace. That’s how well Fernando has done this year.

His performances this season world title or not will ensure his legendary status, when he eventually hangs up his helmet. His incredible score of 90 in this analysis is richly deserved.

You just wonder what he would achieve if he ever managed to get his hands on a dominant car.

In short Vettel does deserve this title; it’s just that Alonso deserves it even more.

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