With only the Brazilian Grand Prix left in the season, there are just two drivers in with a shout of championship glory. They are, of course, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso. Vettel is 13 points ahead of Alonso, which puts the German at an obvious advantage. However, as Alguersuari points out, Alonso has nothing to lose, and the race will therefore be an “uncomfortable” one for Vettel.
If Alonso wins the final race, Vettel needs a fourth-place finish to take the title. If Alonso comes second, Vettel must finish seventh or better to retain his crown. If Alonso finishes third or lower, Vettel will be 2012 World Champion even if he fails to finish the race.
Vettel’s Red Bull is easily quicker than Alonso’s Ferrari in dry conditions, as was demonstrated at yesterday’s US Grand Prix where Vettel finished 38 seconds ahead of Alonso. But the Brazilian race is notorious for delivering unpredictable weather, and Alonso has already demonstrated his skill in the wet this season, winning in Malaysia and taking pole position in torrential rain at Silverstone and Hockenheim. Rain is currently forecast for Saturday and Sunday, which could play straight into the hands of Alonso.
Alonso also has reliability on his side. Vettel’s Red Bull team has been plagued by alternator issues throughout the year, including while Vettel was leading comfortably in Valencia. Most recently, Vettel’s team mate Mark Webber suffered an alternator failure during yesterday’s race in Texas – a timely reminder to Vettel that the championship is anything but decided. By contrast, Alonso has not had a single reliability issue during a race this season. His two non-finishes were both caused by accident damage.
Alguersuari, who is a compatriot of the Spanish Alonso, was interviewed by Mundo Deportivo, and had the following to say:
“Vettel can only lose the championship, because in theory he has already won. But theory doesn’t give you ten points.
“Fernando, who at the age of 31 knows something about Formula One after 11 years, is already the de-facto runner-up and so he can only win.
“Who has been involved in elite sport knows what can go wrong when you are defending an advantage, and how well you can go when you have nothing to lose.
“So Brazil will give us something very interesting.”
Mark Webber has won the Brazilian Grand Prix, but I doubt very much if it’s a victory he will savour.
Team-mate Sebastian Vettel dominated qualifying and disappeared into the lead at the start of the race. Only a gearbox problem for Vettel gave Webber a chance to challenge for the win.
It was suggested during the race commentary that the gearbox problem may have been fabricated by Red Bull to gift the win to Webber. Given the reliability of the car this season, Webber himself must be wondering the same thing.
Webber’s 2011 has, frankly, been disappointing. He has been totally outclassed by team-mate Vettel and, despite having the fastest car in the field, has finished only 3rd in the championship. Button, Alonso and Hamilton have looked much better than Webber all season, though they’ve been driving cars that are obviously inferior to the Red Bull.
Considering the depth of talent in and on the fringes of Formula 1, Webber’s place in the Red Bull team for 2012 has to be questioned. Torro Rosso drivers Algersuari and Buemi are working towards a Red Bull seat. Behind them, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Éric Vergne are poised to replace them. Red Bull have a strong development programme in place. Why are they hanging onto Webber when he is not delivering?
With that in mind, it seems unlikely that Red Bull would have gifted Webber the win. This is Formula 1. If he’s not good enough to win on the track, they’d be better served to replace him. So it may be simply be Webber’s good luck that he ends the season on a high. Perhaps it will provide him with the extra bit of confidence he needs to start 2012 on the right foot. Though how much confidence can he really get from winning through Vettel’s misfortune?
It’s always difficult to interpret lap times from free practise. Only the teams know what fuel loads are in the cars, what the drivers are doing and why, and what the engineers are working on, so the order on Friday can mean nothing at all.
In Brazil, the Friday times mean even less. The track is very short, so the cars will appear closer together than they are in reality. There is also always the possibility of rain, which has the potential to upset the order. Rain is predicted on Saturday and Sunday.
Judging from the Friday times, McLaren and Red Bull seem to have the edge on everyone else. Ferrari are a little off the pace, and Mercedes appear to be reasonably close to Ferrari.
The track is an interesting one for set-up work. The first and third sectors are very fast, with quite a tight, twisty middle sector. The middle sector is generally not conducive to overtaking. The major overtaking places on the track are at the end of the start/finish straight into turn 1, and at the end of the next straight into turn 4.
The Mercedes pair of Rosberg and Schumacher were quickest in the third sector in FP2. This suggests that they are running a set-up that is more in favour of top speed than cornering speed. If either Schumacher or Rosberg were to get among the front-runners at the start, they would be very difficult to pass with such a set-up. This is a set-up that Schumacher has used very effectively earlier in the season, at Monza in particular.
Another team to watch for a similar strategy is Force India. They have historically been strong at high-speed tracks such as Spa and Monza, so expect them to be competitive in Sectors 1 and 3.
The back of the field will also be interesting to watch. Team Lotus have a new rear wing, which is designed for more efficient DRS. This should help them significantly in qualifying, where they can use DRS as much as they like. The practice times suggest that they have quite a margin over Virgin and HRT (about 1.7 seconds), and that they are reasonably close to the mid-field (about 0.6s slower than the fastest Williams). They could possibly make it into Q3 this afternoon.
It’s shaping up for a very interesting qualifying session. The close times at the front, improvements at the back, and possibility of rain all promise to yield some surprises.
Michael Schumacher returned to Formula 1 racing in 2010 after a “retirement” of 3 years. Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix will be the 38th of his second Formula 1 career, which thus far has not quite lived up to expectations. Yet it has still been a fantastic story for Formula 1, and still has the potential for success.
It was hoped when he returned that Schumacher would immediately be back at the top of Formula 1. He was expected to out-pace team-mate Nico Rosberg, to fight for victories, and to be a championship contender. None of those things happened in 2010. He was soundly beaten by Rosberg throughout the season, did not appear on the podium at all, and finished 9th in the championship (his worst ever result in a full season of racing).
2011 has seen a quicker, better-adapted Michael Schumacher. The car is still off the pace, as it was in 2010, but this year he has used it to much greater effect. In the races, that is. Qualifying remains an area that needs improvement. This year he has fought well against the likes of Hamilton (who is driving a much faster car), beaten team-mate Rosberg a few times, and currently lies 8th in the championship, only 7 points behind his team-mate.
Though 2011 has clearly been a better year, Schumacher still has not stood on the podium (although he came heart-breakingly close in Canada, where the old Schumacher showed himself briefly), has not taken a pole position, and has not been seen by the front of the field as a serious contender for race victories or the championship.
Yet, despite the apparent lack of success since his comeback, Schumacher is still enthusiastic, still working hard with and for his team, and still racing for all he’s worth. He is demonstrating one of the keys to his enormous success, and that is his professionalism. He committed to the task of winning with Mercedes, and he will not rest until that is achieved. As an avid Schumacher fan, I sincerely hope it works out for him. It would be wonderful for Formula 1 to have Schumacher back on the top step of the podium. Sport needs great stories, and Schumacher has the potential to create one. Here’s looking forward to 2012.