After Japan, is the F1 title now a two-horse race?
The destiny of the world championship swung sharply in Sebastian Vettel’s favour in Japan.
Vettel dominated the Grand Prix at his favourite track. The reigning champion produced a ‘grand slam’ performance: he took pole position, led from start to finish and set fastest lap on his way to victory.
Meanwhile championship leader Fernando Alonso was eliminated in a crash at the start for the second time in four races. His points lead in the championship, which was a healthy 37 just three weeks ago, has been slashed to four.
Remarkably, it has taken until the 15th race of this season for someone to win two races in a row. Having done that, Vettel looks to be in a very strong position for the remaining rounds.
Alonso remains the favourite to win the title on 1.5, but Vettel’s odds have been cut to 2.4.
Red Bull’s step forward
Was Red Bull’s margin of performance simply down to Vettel being on top form at a circuit he loves? Or have they stolen a march on the opposition in the development race? It looks like the latter may be the case.
In Japan it was discovered that Red Bull had a new upgrade on their car which they had tested during practice for the Singapore race, apparently without anyone outside the team noticing.
Their new rear wing follows the lead set by Mercedes earlier in the year by enhancing the effect of the Drag Reduction System (DRS), which drivers can use for a boost of speed when overtaking.
Team principal Christian Horner was quick to play down the significance of their ‘Double DRS’ saying it was not a “silver bullet”. There were other updates on the Red Bull RB8 including a revised front wing.
But the Double DRS could prove especially useful in the next few races, all of which feature very long straights where high top speed is important.
As a result, Vettel is favourite to win this weekend’s race in Korea, his odds having been trimmed to 2.75. Next is Lewis Hamilton on 3.5.
A two-horse race?
With Vettel moving within range of Alonso, it’s easy to overlook the other contenders in the championship this year.
Hamilton took ten points off Alonso in Korea, reducing his deficit to 42. Following the blow his championship chances took in Singapore Hamilton’s odds on winning the title have crept up to 12.0.
Kimi Raikkonen’s odds are even longer at 35.0, yet he is closer to Alonso than Hamilton, 37 points behind.
Clearly both drivers need to gain a lot of ground in the remaining races to have a chance. But with 125 points left to be won neither should be ruled out yet.
Lotus have already shown that Raikkonen’s team mate Romain Grosjean is required to pull over and make way for his team mate when needed to. McLaren will not do the same for Lewis Hamilton until Jenson Button is out of the championship running, which won’t happen for at least two more races.
Lotus are also bringing a significant upgrade to their car for this weekend’s race. Raikkonen has done an excellent job of scoring points consistently so far – Japan was his 12th top ten finish in a row – and this latest update could prove a timely boost for his championship chances.
As for Hamilton, the McLaren MP4-27 remains a competitive proposition, albeit one he failed to get into the set-up sweet spot in Japan. He should go better in Korea, where he took pole position last year.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.