Lewis Hamilton’s championship chances suffered a potentially fatal blow in the Singapore Grand Prix.
Early in the race his team discovered his car was developing a gearbox problem. Though they hoped he could complete the race distance the glitch became a terminal fault on lap 23.
Hamilton had done everything right up to that point, planting his McLaren MP4-27 on pole position and leading the race comfortably.
But his fourth no-score in eight races leaves him counting the cost to his championship aspirations.
Odds against Hamilton now
Had Hamilton not suffered this latest setback, he would have closed within 24 points of championship leader Fernando Alonso. Instead he finds himself 52 adrift.
The psychological difference between the two is enormous: 24 points is less than a race win is worth; 52 is more than two race wins away.
Small wonder the odds on Hamilton clinching the championship have risen to 8.0.
Lessons from history
Hamilton can take heart from the knowledge that other drivers have come from similar distances behind in fewer races and still won the title.
F1 has changed its points system several times in recent years so it’s helpful to look at this in terms of what a win is worth. As things stand Hamilton is 2.08 wins behind with six races to go.
In 2007 Kimi Raikkonen was 1.7 wins behind the championship leader with two races to go. But he won the final two rounds and clinched the title against the odds.
Hamilton certainly won’t have forgotten that, because he was the driver who lost the championship. A needless tyre gamble in the Chinese Grand Prix led to him skidding off the track and into retirement. And in the final race he was scuppered by – coincidentally enough – a gearbox problem.
But Hamilton can’t rely on the experienced Alonso giving away points so easily. He has been a model of consistency this year, finishing on the podium eight times.
Hamilton’s chances of winning the championship are not unrealistic, but they are slim, and he cannot afford to let another race weekend pass without reducing the gap to Alonso.
Alonso may not have the outright fastest car but his Ferrari F2012 has proved a good all-rounder, strong in wet conditions, and more reliable than the Red Bull or McLaren.
Since the summer break Alonso has finished third twice and was taken out of the race in Belgium through no fault of his own. If Alonso continues to race up third-place finishes, each worth 15 points, Hamilton will need a minimum of five wins and a second to beat him.
Hamilton has a very competitive car at the moment and has usually had the beating of his team mate this year. But even so expecting him to win almost all of the remaining races is a tall order when he’s up against opposition of the quality of Vettel and Alonso.
What he needs is for the likes of Button and the Red Bull drivers to finish between him and Alonso. They have the cars to do this but Alonso has proved time and again he is the master of extracting the most from his Ferrari and rarely leaves a race weekend having fallen short of its potential.
It bears pointing out that both Hamilton and Vettel have failed to score on two occasions this year because of their cars letting them down. What they both would give for the law of averages to intervene and redress the balance by having Alonso hit trouble.
But F1 rarely works that way.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.