After the Japanese Grand Prix, Sebastian Vettel is now only four points behind championship leader Fernando Alonso. The Red Bull looks a fair amount quicker than the Ferrari, which suggests that Vettel could take the title with relative ease. But there is one fairly major obstacle standing in Vettel’s way: reliability.
Renault, engine suppliers to Red Bull, have had a number of alternator failures this season. Vettel and Lotus driver Romain Grosjean retired from first and second places in Valencia when their alternators failed. Vettel retired from the Italian Grand Prix with the same problem, and Renault admitted that they were struggling to find a solution. It seems, from the tracks where the failures occurred, that the problem is temperature-related – ambient temperatures at Valencia were high, and Monza is a power track that places great stress on engines.
Unfortunately for Vettel, the last five races of the season include circuits where a similar failure is possible, even likely. India, Abu Dhabi and the United States are all likely to see high ambient temperatures. While Korea and Brazil should not pose much of a cooling problem, the other three races are all high-risk for Renault-powered cars. And Red Bull – whose designer Adrian Newey is famous for not compromising aerodynamics for anything, cooling included – have arguably the most to lose. Vettel is on the brink of a sensational third title, and Red Bull are leading the Constructors’ Championship. A single retirement could be the difference between winning and losing both championships.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso seemed surprisingly upbeat after spinning out at the start of the Japanese Grand Prix. Perhaps he had already worked out that he simply needs to finish the next five races to be the likely champion. After all, the Ferrari has certainly been reliable this season, if not particularly fast.