Five prepare for title climax
The battle for the 2010 World Championship looks set to be the closest ever, with five drivers separated by just 20 points as the teams headed into the summer break.
The title ﬁght has been blown wide open by a late surge from Ferrari and Fernando Alonso, a loss of momentum for McLaren, and the ongoing failure of Red Bull to capitalise fully on its qualifying advantage.
This is the ﬁrst year of the new scoring system and thus for all concerned it’s been difficult to make valid comparisons with previous contests. But dividing that gap of 20 points by 2.5 – to reﬂect the ratio of 25 for a win against 10 under the previous system – reveals the spread between the top five drivers to be equivalent to just eight ‘traditional’ points.
Intriguingly that margin would be exactly the same under the old system, albeit with a different leader (see table right), so the change is not responsible for keeping things close.
Bear in mind that in 2007 Kimi Räikkönen won after being 17 points behind with two races to go and it’s clear that the championship is impossible to predict. Consider too that the Korean GP is new to everyone, and that both it and several of the other remaining venues are potentially susceptible to rain. Singapore, with the usual random elements of a street race, is also something of a lottery.
Despite the uncertainties, Red Bull drivers Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel have to be regarded as the favourites, not least because of the exceptional qualifying record that has seen the dark blue cars beaten to pole only once, when Lewis Hamilton topped the times in Canada.
Since pure straightline speed is not the RB6’s strength, Montréal was one of two tracks that the team had some concerns about earlier in the season, the other being Monza where it struggled last year. The team was very competitive elsewhere in the last part of the 2009 season, however, winning in Japan, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
The downside is Red Bull’s ongoing habit of shooting itself in the foot, both with mistakes in races and its clumsy handling of the delicate relationship between the two drivers and the management. The other potential weakness is that neither driver has experience of a successful title campaign.
In contrast both Hamilton and Jenson Button know how to win titles, and have learned that salvaged fourth and fifth places can be as valuable as victories. But they are going to need more than that if they are to sustain their challenge, and the last two races before the break suggested that the team needs to ﬁnd some performance. The F-duct will provide a boost at some upcoming venues, while it’s worth recalling that even with the difﬁcult 2009 car Hamilton won in Singapore and very nearly in Abu Dhabi.
Ferrari’s controversial swapping of positions in Hockenheim propelled Alonso into the title race, and a frustrated Felipe Massa knows that he is now expected to play a supporting role. The team had upward momentum before the break, but it remains to be seen how much of a distraction the World Council enquiry will be.
Intriguingly, Alonso recently brought the experience factor into focus: “It’s hard to say who is my strongest rival – we are all almost equal. Maybe Hamilton, Button and myself, who have won a title, will tackle the ﬁnal rush in a calmer way, having already experienced something similar.”
2010 FIA FORMULA 1 POINT STANDINGS
1. Mark Webber – 161
2. Lewis Hamilton – 157
3. Sebastian Vettel – 151
4. Jenson Button – 147
5. Fernando Alonso – 141
POINTS AS PER 2009 SYSTEM
1. Lewis Hamilton – 65
2. Mark Webber – 63
3. Sebastian Vettel – 61
4. Jenson Button – 59
5. Fernando Alonso – 57