It would seem like madness to say that someone who is 45 points back of the championships leader with six grands prix to go would have a chance to win the world championship.
But there is, as in all sports, a first time for everything.
After all, is it really that crazy to say that Lewis Hamilton could mount such a monumental comeback to win the 2009 World Championship? Any crazier than saying after the British Grand Prix that he would go on to score a win, a pole, and two podiums in the next three races afterward?
The MP4-24 has transformed from the dog that most likely took Hamilton out of the championship hunt in the first half of the year to a car that appears will see him regularly scoring podiums and fighting for wins for the remainder of the season. It is now squarely on top of the grid fighting for victories with the BGP 001 and the RB5 chassis.
Many have said the McLaren's speed in Hungary was down to the circuit's flattery of its characteristics. But the heavily upgraded MP4-24 (which shall from now on be known as the MP4-24B) has shown competitive pace at two very representative circuits in the Nurburbring and Valencia.
Furthermore, the MP4-24B has answered the bell in another area which has shown to be a critical X-Factor in performance this season: weather conditions. Over the last three races, it has been competitive in cool conditions (Nurburgring), temperate conditions (Hungary), and warm conditions (Valencia).
In contrast, the two cars which have been quickest for the balance of the championship- the Brawn and Red Bull- have performed in a Jekyll and Hyde fashion depending on temperatures. Each car has fallen from winning grands prix and scoring podiums in their optimal conditions to struggling for points in their non-optimal conditions.
McLaren's consistency in variable conditions may ultimately give Hamilton the glimmer of a fighting chance. He'll be able to fight for victories and score podiums consistently while the Brawn and Red Bull drivers have off races.
Furthermore, other teams—particularly Ferrari, Williams, and Renault—have shown progress in the development of their cars, which will surely take more points off
Hamilton would have to win at least three to four more races and finish in the top two for the rest of the season, but he's shown capable before of going on such a run. He would need to average a pickup of nine points per race over Jenson Button for the last six races of the season, which seems next to impossible.
Button surely will have at least one or two competitive runs, and he's shown consistency through the whole season in scoring in every race to suggest that he won't be making major cockups.
But cool weather has been Button's enemy this season and will provide challenges to his performance for the rest of the season. Furthermore, his run of good luck in avoiding any mechanical failures whatsoever or the consequences of other drivers' cockups will likely end, at some point.
There is also the matter of the other three drivers within range of the championship now. Rubens Barrichello, Mark Webber, and Sebastian Vettel are 18, 20.5, and 25 points behind Button, respectively. They will surely all be fighting Hamilton at the front-end of the grid for the rest of the season, as well.
However, the three will also suffer from the seesaw performance of their respective cars in variable weather conditions. Furthermore, they'll be taking points off each other for the remainder of the season.
Even if 45 points is ultimately too much for Hamilton to overcome, the 27 point gap to second-place Barrichello certainly isn't given the performance of the MP4-24B.
Hamilton in all likelihood will not win the 2009 World Championship. No driver has ever overcome the type of margin he currently faces to take the crown, and certainly not in the short period of time he'll have to do it.
But rarely, if ever, have a team and driver taken a car 2.5 seconds off the pace in the first grand prix of the season and developed it into race winner and perhaps the dominant car on the grid as the second half of the season progresses. And if there's a driver who has expertise on epic late-season comebacks (albeit for the wrong reason), it's Hamilton.