Now that Sebastian Vettel has effectively wrapped up the 2013 Formula 1 drivers’ championship, is this season in danger of fizzling out?
The German has a healthy 46-point lead in the driver standings, and his Red Bull is showing no signs of slowing. None of his rivals can seem to mount a sustained challenge, and they regularly take points off one another. Vettel will march to his fourth title, and probably claim it with many races to spare.
If he suffers a couple of DNFs, although this in itself is unlikely, it may stimulate some interest in the waning title battle. However, Vettel won the Belgian Grand Prix at a canter, by 16.8 seconds from Fernando Alonso, and we all now know the game is up.
Nonetheless, there maybe some people clinging on to the futile hope that a challenger can emerge. They will point to this weekend’s race, the Italian Grand Prix, for the source of their misplaced optimism.
“Monza is the worst track of the year for the RB9”, these people will claim. True, Vettel may be beaten in the race on Sunday (although he has won in Italy twice, including that stunning first race win, for Toro Rosso, in 2008), but it is likely he will still leave with a hatful of points, and his championship lead barely reduced. And then he will win in Singapore.
Vettel’s most likely challengers this weekend could come from Mercedes. The Silver Arrows should be better suited to the long straights of Monza, given their engine is generally regarded as the most powerful in the pit lane. This will also give hope to Force India and McLaren, although the Woking-based team appear to have now written off the remainder of 2013.
In the closing stages of the season, when all is said and done in the title race, the Mercedes story could be one of the most compelling in the paddock. Lewis Hamilton currently has more points than Nico Rosberg (139 to 96), and more pole positions (5 to 3), but Rosberg has more wins (2 to 1).
It is thought that Hamilton is now beginning to find his place in the team, so it will be interesting to see (and debate) which of the two drivers end the season on top.
Of course, the game of mid-season musical chairs will continue right to the end of the year, which should keep journalists entertained as the racing become less relevant. Now that Daniel Ricciardo has taken his seat at Red Bull the picture is becoming clearer, but there are still plenty of questions to be answered.
Where will Kimi Räikkönen be when the music stops? Lotus seems most likely, but the Ferrari rumours persist. What will happen to Felipe Massa? Is his time in the game of F1 coming to an end? Who could be sharing the Ferrari with Alonso in 2014? Lower down the grid, there are very few drivers guaranteed to be in the same team (or race series) next year.
Despite Vettel’s grip on the championship trophy becoming ever tighter, this season has continued to produce some great racing, plenty of controversy, and a plethora of talking points. The last race in Belgium was by no means a classic, but there was action further down the field, controversial penalties, some excellent overtaking, and that unpredictable qualifying session will not be forgotten in a hurry.
Monza should provide more drama this weekend, as the European season finishes for another year. If, on the other hand, the race does descend into a Vettel-led procession, we can at least console ourselves that Rush will be out in the cinema the following weekend.
|FORMULA 1 GRAN PREMIO D’ITALIA 2013|
|Timetable (all times BST)|
|Friday 6th September|
|Free Practice 1||09:00|
|Free Practice 2||13:00|
|Saturday 7th September|
|Free Practice 3||10:00|
|Sunday 8th September|
|Live: Sky Sports F1 HD, BBC One; Radio: BBC Radio 5 Live / 5 Live Sports Extra|