Red Bull Racing is in a difficult position. After its worst race all year in Korea, they find themselves with a real chance of missing out on the driver’s championship after being the dominant force all season. If that happens, the team will need to look closely at changing its name to Red Steer Racing.
(Look up steer in a dictionary if that doesn’t make sense.)
Against the odds, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso has set out to deliver on the rash statement that he made in Britain, when he said that he would win the 2010 championship. He was 47 points off the lead at the time and was widely ridiculed, but he has made a lot of pundits—including yours truly—sit up and take notice.
Not that all is lost for Red Bull but, with two races to go, there is absolutely no room for error.
Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, last week announced to the world that the team would not interfere in the championship fight. Of course, last week a Red Bull championship one-two looked inevitable. Besides, they had also got their demonstrations of favouritism out of the way earlier in the season.
Now everything has changed.
Red Bull have made little effort to hide the fact that their anointed driver is Sebastian Vettel. Team advisor Helmut Marko and owner Dietrich Mateschitz have seen Vettel through the ranks of the Red Bull Junior Team to be their greatest success to date. A Vettel championship would be the ultimate payoff for their system.
The problem is that Vettel is fourth in the championship race and 25 points behind Alonso. Even if he were to win the next two races—and he has never won two races in succession—Alonso only has to finish with a third and fourth place to beat him. Even if, by some coincidence, they were to manage to finish on the same points, Alonso would still win the title on a count back.
The Ferrari is looking too good at the moment to expect that Alonso is going to finish too far down the list. In other words, for Vettel to win the title, he has to hope that Alonso’s Ferrari either blows up—he has been on his last engine for a few races now—or that he crashes out.
Not the strongest foundation on which to build a title bid.
Mark Webber, on the other hand, by winning the last two races—and he has already taken back-to-back wins in Spain and Monaco this year—would take the title no matter what Alonso did. You would think that he is a safer bet and has earned the right to have the team’s support to win the championship.
But this isn’t Ferrari.
For all of the criticism that has been levelled at them, Ferrari are single minded in their pursuit of success and if that means crushing a driver’s ambitions in favour of the team’s number one, then they do it.
While the merits of that approach can, and have been, argued at length, the only way to combat that mentality is to adopt the same approach.
Many would argue that there are still way too many permutations to count anyone out before the last race. Lewis Hamilton, like the villain in a teen slasher movie, simply will not go away. He still has a huge task ahead of him and has faltered under pressure in the past, but he’s a significantly better driver than he was in 2007 and 2008.
Brazil and Abu Dhabi should, however, favour the Red Bull cars, so will they play the percentages or go for the long shot and risk everything? One thing is for sure, I wouldn’t want to be the one to tell Sebastian Vettel that he had to yield to Mark Webber.
But I sure would like to be in the room when it happened!