Just a few races ago, Fernando Alonso was very much the favourite to take the 2012 World Championship. Now, after four consecutive race victories, Sebastian Vettel has taken over the position of championship leader, and is beginning to assert himself with the assurance that was so evident in his 2011 campaign.
Vettel is now 13 points ahead of Alonso in the standings with three races to go. With 25 points for a win and a seven point difference between first and second places, Vettel will be World Champion for the third year running if he wins the next two races, even if Alonso finishes second on both occasions.
For Alonso to take the title, he has to beat Vettel on the track. Barring reliability issues for the Red Bull driver, that is not looking particularly likely. In yesterday’s Indian Grand Prix, Vettel was untouchable, winning comfortably by just under 10 seconds from his title rival. Alonso did manage to finish ahead of Mark Webber in the second Red Bull, but that was largely due to a KERS problem on Webber’s car in the second half of the race.
Webber is now realistically out of the running for the championship. He is 73 points behind his team-mate with only 75 points still available in the season, which effectively ends his challenge. That should mean, in the absence of problematic intra-team politics at Red Bull, that Webber will assist Vettel to the title if required. The recent dominance of the Red Bull RB8 added to the support of a quick and tenacious team-mate makes Vettel a fairly safe bet to become the youngest triple World Champion in history and only the third driver ever to win three consecutive titles.
On the other end of the grid, the most successful driver in history may be wishing he had stayed in bed yesterday. Michael Schumacher suffered a puncture in the first corner when he was hit from behind by the Toro Rosso of Jean-Eric Vergne, and that resulted in him being so far behind that he was lapped in the opening stages of the race. With no chance of points, the team retired the car in the closing laps of the race for “technical reasons”, although there was no indication of what those might be.
Schumacher’s three-year return to Formula One is fizzling out as he gets closer to retirement. He is now last of the Mercedes-powered drivers in the championship, even behind the Force India pair of Hulkenberg and Di Resta. While Schumacher’s lack of points is arguably largely due to reliability problems on the car in the early part of the season, it will not be satisfying to the seven-time World Champion to be bowing out on such a low note.
Racing resumes in a few days’ time in Abu Dhabi, scene of Vettel’s first Championship victory. Vettel will be the favourite for victory once again, although Ferrari and Alonso will be working round the clock to close the gap. Vettel cannot clinch the title this weekend, but Red Bull are likely to claim yet another Constructors’ Championship. Ferrari must score six more points than Red Bull in Abu Dhabi just to keep the Constructors’ Championship alive. Based on recent form, it seems more likely that Red Bull will be celebrating on Sunday night.