After Korea it really is all over bar the shouting. While Sebastian Vettel and Christian Horner understandably refuse to tempt fate by getting too excited about Red Bull’s title prospects, a fourth straight win for the German has ended any thoughts that his closest rivals might have had about taking the fight all the way to Brazil.
Had Fernando Alonso finished second again rather than sixth there might have been slightly more optimism that the fight will be extended, but as things stand the maths is simple – if Vettel wins in Suzuka next weekend and the Spaniard finishes ninth or worse, it’s all over. Just as significant as the numbers was the fact that Alonso wasn’t really in the game in Korea, finishing where he started for once. Had he been leading the challenge behind Vettel one might be encouraged to think that at some of the upcoming races he yet could finish ahead on merit, or least be the man to take advantage should RBR falter.
Of course Ferrari, Lotus and Mercedes all still want to win more races this year, but over the last couple of weeks all have increasingly turned their R&D resources over to 2014, knowing that any major push on this year’s car would be like throwing good money after bad. Adrian Newey too can finally ease off on making the RB9 ever faster, even if the boss is still a little cautious.
“We’re not thinking about the championship,” said Christian Horner on Sunday. “If the moon and the stars line up, and he wins the race and Fernando finishes ninth or lower then in theory yes he could win the championship. Our approach in Suzuka will be exactly the same as it’s been at all the other races this year, to go there to get the best out of ourselves, out of the car, out of the drivers. Then the championship tables tend to take care of themselves.
“Obviously as we get closer to the end of the championship, Seb’s got a very healthy lead now, but you can’t afford to take anything for granted. There’s still, at the end of the day, 125 points available. As long as we win it, I don’t care where we win it, but obviously the likelihood of it happening in Japan is extremely low. When has Fernando Alonso ever finished ninth?”
It’s inevitable that Vettel’s run has left F1 insiders and fans alike a little disappointed that we won’t get the sort of final round showdown that we’ve seen so often in the recent past, and no doubt that – along with the Malaysian GP fallout – has contributed to the booing that we’ve heard at recent podium ceremonies.
It’s a shame that his stranglehold on the World Championship has led to some animosity towards Seb, because he really doesn’t deserve it. He’s worked hard to pull the team along, and while some of his wins may look like a stroll in the park, that perhaps reflects the fact that he does his job so well. Korea was a case in point.
“We could see the right front was critical,” said Horner. “We could see an angry looking band appear on the cars, and you’d go through a graining phase, and then they seemed to clean up, and then you’d run out of tread. It was a matter of not using the tyre, and I think that’s why Sebastian drove an incredibly disciplined race today to drive within that right front tyre and make sure he could get that stint length and the range that we needed.
“He’s driving extremely well at the moment. The confidence that he’s carrying in the car, the discipline that he’s driving with, is remarkable. He’s on a great run at the moment. We’re going to push all the way to the end of this championship right up to the chequered flag in Brazil. We can’t control what others do, but we can push ourselves, which is exactly what we’ll do.”
Vettel is like a little brother to Horner, and the team principal is very sensitive about the negative vibes that have accompanied the German’s success. He’s adamant that will one day Seb will be appreciated among the greats of the sport.
“I think he’s got to be right up there, because the kind of level he’s performing at is unbelievable in many respects. We know that Mark is a very talented very quick racing driver, and matching him against that he’s been… What’s really impressed is that he’s continued to develop, he’s continued to grow as he’s gained more experience. That was about his 115th Grand Prix, and to have won the ratio of races he has, is quite remarkable.
“He’s only 26 years of age. He works so hard at it. What you guys don’t see is behind the scenes, how much effort he puts in in preparation, in his training, in the application that he has to the job that he does. He’s hugely self-critical, he’s always looking at areas where he can improve, where he can be better, he’ll look at this race and he’ll look at things that he could be stronger at.
“It’s that inward looking that he has that keeps propelling and driving him forwards. I think he’s got the balance about right, based on the results he’s achieving, with the consistence that he’s achieving it. It’s paying off for him.”
Whatever your opinion of Vettel’s potential place alongside fellow multiple champions Fangio, Prost and Schumacher, you have to take note of the fact that he is still so young, and has achieved so much. If he continues to get better, as Christian suggests, the sky really is the limit…
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