Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull Racing have been the best of the Formula One grid for the last four races, with the two-time world champion stretching his lead over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who is also seeking his third World Drivers’ Championship.
The two will meet again at the Formula One Etihad Airways Abu Dhabi Grand Prix on Sunday, third-to-last of the 2012 F1 season.
“If we speak about the world championship, obviously India was another good step for us, but still a long way to go and we have seen this year how quickly things can change,” Vettel told formula1.com. “It feels fantastic to have a race like that where everything works the way you want it to. But now we are focusing on Abu Dhabi. There’s a lot more to come and we’ll try to take things step by step.”
Alonso told formula1.com he hoped to have a better car for his next race. “I hope that we bring some new parts to Abu Dhabi, hopefully improve a little bit more then competitiveness of the car, try to be a little bit closer to Red Bulls on Saturday [qualifying] and hopefully on Sunday [the race] as well,” he said.
Alonso, 13 points behind, needs to win a couple of the remaining Grands Prix, or have Vettel fail to finish. Even if he won twice and finished second once, he would lose if Vettel won once and finished second twice. Basically, Ferrari can only triumph in 2012 if Red Bull breaks or crashes, and so far Vettel has had both luck and reliability on his side.
Vettel can win if Alonso turns in anything but a stellar drive in each remaining race. While the Ferrari driver’s performance has been first-rate, that of the F2012 has been far less. A complete dog at the start of the season, the chassis has improved immensely but still lags behind Vettel’s RB9, which has been the best car on the grid since Singapore.
The past four races have been replays of 2011, when Vettel opened a huge gap and was never challenged. The German driver’s smooth, tire-saving style combined with the superior RB9 chassis gave Vettel an unmatchable edge.
It is hard to see where Abu Dhabi’s twisting, 21-turn Yas Marina circuit will favor Alonso’s Ferrari any more than India’s Buddh circuit, where Vettel won with ease. And with the Red Bull running all alone ahead of the field a chance for a collision with another car is slight.
On top of that, the Red Bull pit crew performed an astonishing 2.6-second stop at India, two-tenths faster than the best Ferrari could do. Poor Alonso just can’t catch a break.
McLaren is all but eliminated from title contention. If Alonso and Vettel collided and sidelined each other, McLaren drivers Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button might have the slightest hope.
Hamilton won in 2011, and Button has never failed to finish on the podium. Possibly the McLaren which ran so strong in the middle of the season, might work well on Yas Marina’s mix of fast and slow corners, and let the McLaren team save some face late in the season.
“I’m really looking forward to this race weekend. I’ve always gone well around this track – I had a great battle with Mark Webber in 2009, and finished third, and Lewis and I have been on the podium together at the last two races,” Button said in a McLaren press release.
“I think this will be another closely matched race: India showed us that the gap between the top three teams is extremely close at the moment, so I wouldn’t like to predict the exact pecking order. As in the last few races, I think Red Bull will go into the weekend with a slight advantage, but I’m confident that, with a clear run through practice, we can be right up there too.”
Hamilton, with a good record at Yas Marina, also expressed confidence.I’ve always enjoyed the Yas Marina circuit. I took pole here in 2009 and led until my retirement, finished second in 2010 and won it last year—that’s a pretty good record,” he said in the release.
“It’s a track where you can really push the car, which is what I most enjoy. There are a wide variety of corners—I love the fast sweeps in the first sector—and it’s incredibly satisfying to hook together a good sector through the tricky marina section of the lap. Good mechanical balance makes all the difference here because you’re always changing direction.
“This has also been a place where Red Bull have traditionally gone well, but our race pace was very strong throughout the race in New Delhi. I really enjoyed that race India—fourth place may have been little reward for 60 laps of flat-out effort, but I couldn’t have gone any faster.
“I feel confident that we can pull together a strong race weekend in Abu Dhabi.”
Confidence is an asset, but an excellent car trumps attitude. Everyone admits the Red Bull is the best car, and no one doubts Sebastian Vettel is one of the best drivers. Five wins in a row for Vettel and Red Bull seems a safe prediction.