And then there were three. The 2010 Formula One driver’s championship now boils down to just three drivers—Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel, and Fernando Alonso.
Lewis Hamilton’s ongoing run of bad luck continued in Suzuka with two gearbox problems; one in practice which cost him five grid places for the changeover, and then another problem during the race, dropping him to fifth and languishing 28 points off the lead with only three races remaining.
Even the most strident Hamilton fan would have trouble coming up with a scenario where all of the leading drivers failed and Hamilton stung together a series of victories. It’s still mathematically possible, but it will take something pretty unlikely to get him to the lead in the championship.
McLaren teammate, Jenson Button, just isn’t up to speed, staying in the hunt mainly as a result of consistency as opposed to outright speed. His fourth place today only came about because of Hailton’s problems. At 31 points off the lead, Button is also mathematically still in the hunt, but it would take a very special kind of optimism to see him outperforming the four drivers ahead of him.
So the 2010 championship will go to a red team. The only remaining question is whether it will be the red of Ferrari or of the Bull. The smart money would have to be on the latter.
Last year, Red Bull came home with a wet sail, taking out first and second in Brazil and Abu Dhabi after Vettel cleaned up in Japan. It would seem that the upcoming tracks will suit the Red Bull machine just that little bit better than their competitors.
The only remaining unknown is Korea in two weeks time—assuming, of course, that it will be ready and will pass tomorrow’s inspection.
The Red Bull cars of Vettel and Webber look to be in a class of their own. In Japan, they toyed with the opposition, conserving their cars and pushing only as hard as was absolutely necessary and only really showing what the cars could do when they were having a bit of fun at the end of the race.
Both Webber and Vettel worked fastest laps going into the closing stages of the race, showing that they were significantly faster than their competitors, despite what may have appeared to be the case through the race.
Alonso is still in the hunt and the Ferrari team has made a significant leap forward over the last few races, but he is still reliant on one engine to finish the season off and he is the only one in the top five who has a teammate uninterested in performing well.
Rumours are swirling again about the number two seat at Ferrari, and Felipe Massa hasn’t taken this development well. Still smarting from the team orders issue, Massa seems reluctant to pitch in to help his pampered number one driver.
So as the circus heads off into the unknown, we can be thankful that while the actual racing is processional, the championship remains as intriguing as ever. How long can they keep it up?