F1: On the home straight
Revenge will be near the front of Fernando Alonso’s mind at Interlagos on Sunday.
The battle for the drivers’ championship has gone down to the wire 27 times, most recently in 2010, when Alonso went into the last race of the season in Abu Dhabi leading the standings by 15 points ahead of a certain young German. Alonso could only finish seventh that day, watching on helplessly as Vettel won the race and drivers’ championship. And, to rub salt in the wound, the German took Alonso’s title of youngest ever Formula 1 champion with him, too.
Now 13 points behind Vettel, the Spaniard has a chance for retribution. A slim one it may be, but he’s confident. “Maybe on paper that chance is not so big, maybe 25 per cent,” he said after the US Grand Prix, “But deep down, I feel it’s much more than that.
”Clearly, if it’s dry and we have a normal race, one can expect Red Bull to be in front of everyone and us on the third or fourth row, so the more unknown factors there are, the better it is for us. Anything can happen at Interlagos and we saw again how important reliability can be, didn’t we?”
Alonso is referring to Red Bull’s alternator problems, which have forced three retirements this season. They are understandably nervous about the possibility of another failure on Sunday. Team principal Christian Horner told the BBC: ”It’s just a worry, full stop. Unfortunately, it is the third alternator we’ve had and there have been others in other cars.”
Despite that problem, Horner’s team definitely have the best chance on paper, having won four of the six races since they upgraded their car in Singapore. However, according to Sky F1 pundit Johnny Herbert, the Sao Paulo track could put the advantage back in the hands of Ferrari, and Fernando Alonso.
“I think the circuit suits him and Ferrari much more than the past five or so we’ve had,” he told Sport. “They’ve all been these modern tracks with smooth surfaces, and the Red Bull seems to revel in those new type of tracks. Interlagos is very different – old style, old school, and it needs a different style of driving.”
Some believe that Alonso has the mental edge as well. Take Jacques Villeneuve, for example. The 1997 F1 champion told Autosprint magazine: “Seb is super quick, but there is a difference with Fernando that emerges in case of an unfavourable situation. Alonso remains calm, cool and rational, while Vettel most of the time gets upset, angry, screams and flicks the middle finger. He reacts like a child.”
We saw signs of that in Austin last weekend, as Vettel raged over the intercom after being overtaken by Lewis Hamilton. “The comments that he made last weekend were a little bit like spitting the dummy out,” says Herbert. “There are little chinks in his armour that I think Fernando has been playing on, and it hasn’t just been him. Everyone seems to be favouring Fernando over Sebastian. I think there are some mental chinks there, although he always seems to be able to do it when he gets on the track.”
“The one who seems to be much more in control seems to be Fernando, because he has that self-belief. He keeps turning it around when it looks like it’s going to be impossible, and he keeps throwing it on the podium to keep the championship alive. That Ferrari is still not fast enough – he knows that and Ferrari know that, but he’s still been able to churn out the points.”
He also knows that even a win might not be enough – all Vettel has to do to secure the title is finish fourth or higher, something that he’s only failed to do six times in the past two years. But, according to Herbert, nothing is guaranteed – despite the Red Bull’s clear speed advantage. “They all make mistakes,” he says, “And there’s no reason why, under a certain amount of pressure in the last race, it couldn’t happen again. It could be the weather that throws itself into the works – at the moment it could be wet. One of those guys is very good in the wet, and he’s Spanish.”
The other drivers will want to have their say, too, and could prove the ’unknown factor’ Alonso is hoping for. Lewis Hamilton is in the form of his life at the moment, and will be keen to end his 14-year relationship with McLaren on a high note. Felipe Massa, on the other hand, proved himself a team player in Austin, and “could help out Alonso in his home GP” says Herbert.
Whether it’s their engines failing, their teammates prevailing, or an intervention from above, if there’s one thing that we’ve learnt this season, it’s not to try to predict anything.
We’ll definitely have a new triple world champion by Sunday evening. But beyond that, your guess is as good as ours.
Round 20: Interlagos, November 25
Sky Sports F1 commentators David Croft and Anthony Davidson talk us through Interlagos, the last circuit on the calendar…
DC: “It’s a perfect place for a season finale. When you get to a track and you see that people have been camping out overnight to get into the circuit, you know you’re in the right place.”
AD: “It’s high-altitude, 810 metres above sea level, so you haven’t got much downforce and you haven’t got much power either – so rhythm and the flow is everything to keep that momentum up. Tricky parts of the track: braking into the S-curves at the start, it’s easy to lock up the front left and make a mistake.
"You can ruin your qualifying lap on turn one and that’s big pressure for the drivers. You’re flat out for 14-15 seconds as you rise up the hill and DRS is effective as well round there. It’s a great circuit for overtaking and a real challenge for the drivers. It’s physically hard, lots of left handers, anti-clockwise, so the left hand side of your neck gets a real punishment. It’s quite a short circuit as well – lap times are always quite close. So, in qualifying, it is super-important to nail the lap. It’s pretty aggressive on the tyres as well. All in all, a real brutal track, but very rewarding.”
Watch the F1 season finale with live practice, qualifying and the race on Sky Sports F1 HD
1 Mark Webber (Red Bull)
2 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
3 Jenson Button (McLaren)
1 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
2 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
3 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
273 Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull)
260 Fernando Alonso (Ferrari)
206 Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus)
190 Lewis Hamilton (McLaren)
167 Mark Webber (Red Bull)