Formula 1: The Race for a Top 10 Finish
When Renault sensationally sacked Nick Heidfeld midway through the current season, many of us were stunned. How a team without their number one driver, Robert Kubica, could so easily discard his replacement was beyond comprehension.
Whilst he had not proven to be the number one that Renault foolishly expected him to be, he at least gained some promising results.
When Heidfeld exited after the Hungarian Grand Prix, he was two points clear of his teammate Vitaly Petrov with six points finishes and a podium finish to his name.
His own replacement Bruno Senna has failed to deliver.
As a result we now have a situation where Heidfeld has remained within the top 10 in the Drivers' Championship. Remarkably this is a position he could keep hold of despite missing eight of the 19 races in this campaign.
Is there anyone below him in the standings who can take the final place within the top 10 and put themselves forever into various encyclopedias of Formula 1 history?
Here I will take a look at the runners and riders with a shot.
The sport of Formula 1 has adjusted well to the various rule changes which have required teams to avoid penalties for the replacements of engines. Reliability is at an all-time high.
Consequentially we are now in a position where the majority of the field finish Grand Prix. Even in places like Monaco, points have become vastly more difficult to achieve as luck does not give lower-ranked drivers the opportunities they once had.
Yet if something were to happen in Abu Dhabi or at the notorious Brazilian Grand Prix, there may be a few drivers who could take advantage.
Sebastien Buemi was unfortunate to retire from the Indian Grand Prix and currently stands 19 points adrift of Heidfeld. This effectively is a clear race win, or in two races a top five finish in each.
Sergio Perez finds himself in a similar position after a season where he has battled against the expectation of high tyre degradation, lasting effectively on one set of wheels. On various occasions he has threatened to produce a stunning result, though this is something not beyond the realm of possibility.
The Rookie Rank Outside Bet
Paul Di Resta has been heralded as a talent of the future. In the past, the Scottish driver has portrayed enough speed and talent to defeat current double world champion Sebastian Vettel in their time in Formula 3.
In a strong debut season, he has collected six points finishes, including his sixth-place personal best in Singapore.
His uninspired showing in India has lost him ground on those above but with Di Resta you know you can more often than not rely on a positive performance.
Force India looks more pacey in qualifying than they do in the race, so Di Resta's 13-point deficit to Heidfeld may seem a little overwhelming.
What an end to a debut season it would be if he could make it, building momentum for a follow-up season within Vijay Mallya's outfit.
The People's Star in an Average Car
When Kamui Kobayashi burst into the sport in 2009 he immediately gained an impressive reputation. The Japanese driver's eclectic driving style and fearless overtaking ambitions laid him down as a driver who was prepared to take risks to succeed.
As fanatics of a sport based around high-adrenaline competitive action, we lapped it up.
This season saw him continue at a Sauber team where he finished 12th in 2010. If it had not been for Sauber's infringement on rear wing regulations in Australia, Kamui would have begun 2011 with a delectable seven straight points finishes.
Yet since his seventh-place finish in Canada, he has found himself in the points positions only once in 10 races. Additionally, his current standing (12th), seven points adrift of Heidfeld, looks under threat from a resurgent Toro Rosso team.
Kamui may just have to settle for a frustrating final duo of Grand Prix where pride is his main motivator and look to next season for improvement.
The Rising Star
After six Grand Prix of the 2011 campaign, many were pondering the possible exit from Formula 1 of Jaime Alguersuari. Maybe he just didn't have the pace and ability required to etch a name for himself within Formula 1.
But since his retirement in Monaco, the Spaniard has wonderfully subverted the struggle that the Toro Rosso car seems to have in qualifying, producing effective and beautiful drives on race day.
Seven top 10 finishes in the last 11 Grand Prix has shown what Jaime can produce.
The visibly improved pace that Toro Rosso appears to have given him looks set to afford further points scoring opportunities in the last two Grand Prix.
Standing eight points behind Heidfeld with two other drivers ahead of him in the standings, it will take continually strong drives to achieve an unexpected top 10 finish, but it is not out of his reach.
A couple of seventh-place results—replicating his performances in Italy and Korea—would just about do the trick. As it stands he portrays the best opportunity for success for Toro Rosso.
The Constant Performer
With rumours abound that Force India's lead driver Adrian Sutil may be shipped off to a floundering Williams team, this season could potentially be the German's last opportunity to gain a top 10 finish.
He found himself in a similar position last season as a string of excellent performances allowed him to battle Rubens Barrichello and Michael Schumacher for 10th place. Unfortunately for Sutil, a much needed boost for Schumacher in the final few Grand Prix allowed his fellow German to save his blushes and finish comfortably ahead.
Sutil finds himself 17 points shy of his 2010 total, within four points of Heidfeld's tally. Seven points finishes have been accompanied by four 11th place results, highlighting the ongoing potential that Sutil has in a midfield-running car.
He just needs that final push to gain the necessary tally to make it into the top 10. He impressed in India by out-qualifying and out-racing his teammate Di Resta. Whilst many have lauded Di Resta's opening season, it is worth remembering that Sutil has remained focused and capable.
The worry for Sutil is that the Toro Rosso team proved hard to keep up with in the race and this is a pattern that Force India may need to overthrow if Sutil is to snatch 10th at the wire.
Or Just Maybe.....
Of course all of this could just be a theory if Nick Heidfeld keeps hold of the top 10 finish.
Due to his podium finish in Malaysia, he effectively has an extra point advantage over the chasing pack.
This means for example that Adrian Sutil could not take the position with two ninth place results, or that Alguersuari would need positions higher than eighth to make it work.
If Heidfeld were to remain in the position, it would be a perfect two-fingered salute to the team that wrongfully let him go in the hope that his replacement Senna would yield better performances.