December 10 2013 Latest news:
Michael Bailey, Formula One correspondent
Friday, October 12, 2012
Few things can guarantee a thrilling championship finalé with more certainty than predicting the battle is over with weeks to go. Even this column was at it – it just didn’t seem likely Fernando Alonso would be losing out on that third title he so dearly wants.
"Only during the final lap did I allow myself to really think I can keep Jenson behind me… I got my first podium in Suzuka!"
Indeed, you assumed even if his rivals got it together, they would end up sharing the spoils while Fernando ticked off the races.
But sport – and Formula One – rarely works the way you expect.
Alonso’s consistency, or you could argue luck, appears to have run out after being put out of the last two races by early shunts.
Meanwhile, Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull are doing what they do best – driving fast and driving forward.
• GW – Felipe Massa: Stepped up when Alonso’s grand prix ended so quickly – looks set to be rewarded with another season at Maranello alongside the Spaniard.
• BW – Lewis Hamilton: Managed to have a go at team-mate Jenson Button on Twitter for unfollowing him, when Jenson never followed him in the first place. Time to grow up Lewis.
So how are your nerves Fernando? We have five races to go this year and the comparisons with 2010 are already coming to the fore – even though the situation was vastly different.
Only reliability had left the German behind Alonso before the final race, when a poor strategy call left Ferrari in tears and Vettel in dreamland come the Abu Dhabi climax.
This season has been closer and far more topsy-turvey – underpinned by a relentless Spaniard.
But that was then. This is now – and now is a completely different title battle where five races should provide a thrilling and fitting end.
Vettel won his second successive drivers’ title at Japan last year. This year, he may have taken his biggest step towards his third in three.
How Red Bull have found their drive to compete and improve – a renaissance of their form – proves exactly why the mechanics and engineering in F1 still replicates the sweat and determination of any sport, be them team or individual.
It all comes from human endeavour. It is all steered by human emotion.
“The car just felt amazing – every lap it got quicker,” said Vettel who, reminiscent of Ayrton Senna, clearly felt in the zone at Suzuka.
“I wasn’t trying to do something stupid. It just doesn’t happen too often you get a car like that. It showed I was able to go quicker when I wanted.”
Having spent months taking in the prospect of a third Alonso title, the possible change in landscape leads to doing likewise with Vettel.
Three titles in three years would be truly special – and his form makes you think he can do it, even though he remains four points behind Alonso.
But maybe more telling is the maturity with how he dealt with a far poorer car earlier in the season. The way he produced some sparkling overtakes when he was struggling to gain those extra points. No doubt, if Vettel pulls this one off it will be his best – and the one that truly defines him as an F1 great.
• I have a lot of time for Romain Grosjean. He is a cracking driver who has a lot of potential to fill and even more talent to exploit.
And there is no doubt, when his race survives the first lap without any real trauma, he has proven to be a competitive rival for his Lotus team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, as well as the rest of the sharp end of the grid.
Which obviously begs the question – how do you remove that major obstacle in Romain’s path: dealing with the first lap?
Clearly the 26-year-old can’t continue to cause and be part of opening smashes.
Some have been far worse than others. Some have been more unlucky than indisciplined.
He doesn’t really have time on his side, given he has already had one – admittedly quick – shot at F1. And once a reputation establishes itself, in any walk of life, it can be a difficult job shaking it off.
Mark Webber calling Grosjean a “first-lap nutcase” hardly helps. But even after his latest misdemeanour, this time in Japan, I hope the Frenchman is given time to prove whether he can learn or not – rather than just putting up with the doubts and being dumped before he gets getting a chance to sort it out.
Grosjean is expected to partner Kimi at Enstone again next season – but that didn’t stop team principal Eric Boullier laying on thick the responsibility that lays at Grosjean’s door.
“I have spoken a lot with him,” Boullier told Autosport. “We changed the routine, we tried to make it not more comfortable because I needed a tougher environment for him, and I needed to push him, but he is the only one who can fix this.
“Romain has the privilege to be talented, and he has a car fast enough to qualify at the front.
“If you look at his career he was a bit of a hot-headed driver until he got some confidence, but F1 is not as patient as junior.”
All eyes will continue to be on Romain. Here’s hoping he still gets the chance to shine.