Vettel seizes the initiative in F1 title battle


It’s taken four months of chipping away at Fernando Alonso’s advantage for Sebastian Vettel to reclaim the lead of the drivers’ championship. Vettel’s Korean Grand Prix victory was his third win in a row and put him six points ahead with four races remaining.

Montezemolo rues misfortune

The way Ferrari tell it, Alonso’s been robbed. “Certainly we are left with major regret about the 30-odd points lost with the two accidents in Spa and Suzuka,” said president Luca di Montezemolo of the two first-lap crashes which claimed Alonso. “If we had those today we would still have a 24-point advantage and we would be having a completely different debate.”

But Vettel has had his share of misfortune as well. Alternator failures in Valencia and Monza cost him a win and a sixth place respectively. They would have been worth three points more than the 30 Montezemolo generously estimates Alonso lost to misfortune.

Montezemolo also provided a reminder of the single-mindedness with which Ferrari pursue success. He dismissed rumours that Vettel could partner Alonso at the team from 2014, saying he wanted “two drivers who race for Ferrari and not for themselves”.

“I don’t want problems and rivalries,” he added. The implication is that Alonso is their chosen one in the drivers’ championship race and the other driver is expected to function as a number two. That much was clear during Sunday’s race when Felipe Massa received a radio message reminding him not to get too close to his team mate.

This is why Red Bull know they cannot afford to relax. Ferrari moved up to second in the constructors’ championship last weekend, but the greater concern for this team is winning the drivers’ championship for Alonso. Vettel is unlikely to be able to rely on such support from team mate Mark Webber until Webber is no longer able to win the drivers’ championship himself.

Hamilton’s hopes at an end

Lewis Hamilton conceded defeat in the championship after a disastrous race in Korea yielded just a single point. He is now 62 points behind Vettel with a maximum of 100 available to be won.

Applying Montezemolo’s thinking, it’s clear a combination of misfortune and mistakes not of his making are largely to blame for Hamilton’s situation. Two of these proved particularly costly: retiring from the lead in Singapore with a gearbox problem and his exclusion from qualifying in Spain. The latter turned pole position and a clear shot at victory into last on the grid and a race-long grind to eighth. Without those Hamilton would still be in contention.

A litany of other problems have sapped his points tally even further. Repeated errors by his pit crew in Bahrain, a gearbox change penalty in China, a puncture in Germany and crashes in Valencia and at Spa - neither of which were his fault - potentially cost Hamilton dozens more points.

In Korea, as in Japan, his car developed a suspension problem during the race. It made preserving his tyres difficult, and he lost places having to make an extra pit stop. Adding insult to injury, a large piece of Astroturf attached itself to his car with four laps remaining, hampering his recovery effort.

For all that, it’s not hard to see why Hamilton has decided a new team is the way to go for 2013. But this may prove another cause for concern: Mercedes haven’t scored a point since the move was announced.

Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.