An excellent drive from Lewis Hamilton, and some controversial rule-bending by Ferrari, now means that the 2012 drivers’ championship will be decided at the final race of the season, which takes place this Sunday in Brazil.
Hamilton was hoping to win at least one more race with McLaren before he departs to pastures new over the winter, and his wish came true last weekend when he became the winner of the first grand prix to be held at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin.
Last Sunday, the 2008 world champion was the only driver who could stand up to current points-leader Sebastian Vettel and, in doing so, has given fans a tasty battle to anticipate this weekend.
The gap between Vettel and Fernando Alonso now stands at 13 points. Alonso – who got shifted over to the cleaner side of the circuit when his Ferrari team deliberately broke the seal on the car of team-mate Felipe Massa, thus conjuring a five-place grid penalty from nowhere for the Brazilian – took third behind Hamilton and Vettel in Austin, giving his seemingly diminishing title hopes one last boost.
So what must the Spaniard do this weekend if he is to win his third championship? A podium finish in Brazil is a must, something Alonso has not managed since 2008. But even if he does get his hands on a trophy, he will be looking behind him, anxious to find out where Vettel finishes.
If Alonso wins the race at Interlagos – which will be a new achievement for the Spaniard – Vettel will still be the champion if he finishes at least fourth. If Alonso is second, he must hope that Vettel does not finish any higher than eighth, and if Alonso is only third, Vettel need only to finish ninth to deny him the title.
Vettel’s recent form – he has finished on the podium in the last six races – suggests that there is only one direction the title is heading this season, at that is Milton Keynes, not Maranello. However, with everything now hanging on one race, anything can happen.
As Sky commentator David Croft pointed out on a number of occasions during his commentary last weekend, rain is forecast for the visit to Interlagos. Vettel could also have reliability problems at the back of his mind – while Alonso’s Ferrari has been bullet-proof this season, Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber are no stranger to the odd alternator failure.
BBC F1 website writer Andrew Benson chose the adjective ‘bathos’ to describe how the season is ending. A famous online encyclopaedia reminds me that bathos describes ‘an abrupt transition in style from the exalted to the commonplace’. It was as if, prior to last weekend’s race, Mr. Benson was suggesting that we were reliving the Vettel dominance of 2011, and this exciting season was careering towards an anti-climax.
Things could have gone much better for Vettel in the US. Everybody predicted he would win, and score seven points more than he actually did, but Hamilton had other ideas. Added to that, Alonso had no right to finish third – Webber should have taken that position off him, Räikkönen instead maybe, or perhaps even Massa – but finish third Alonso did.
The title race is way closer than it should be heading into the season finale in Brazil. Such an epic season, where a number of championship hopefuls have risen and subsequently fallen, and many drivers have stood atop the podium, deserves an epic finish. Will there be one last twist in the tale on Sunday?
- Qualifying for the Brazilian Grand Prix begins at 16:00 GMT on Saturday, with the race starting at the same time on Sunday.
- In the UK, live coverage is available on Sky Sports F1 HD, BBC One (HD), and BBC Radio 5 Live