Thursday, 23 September 2010

Why I think it's Webber's title (probably)

It's all the fives in the F1 championship fight right now. Five races left, five drivers within a win of each other at the top of the table. But you know this already.

So, what is likely to happen next? I make no claims of being a clairvoyant, but I'll do my best.

A good place to look for clues is in the five remaining tracks, given that the characteristics of these are likely to be the biggest discriminators of pace in the remainder of the season.

Next up, this weekend, is Singapore. This looks like Red Bull country, given it's a tight, confined, bumpy street track, in the Monaco mold (and the Red Bulls, Webber in particular, were strong there earlier this season). Indeed, the Red Bulls have been insisting for a number of weeks that Singapore will see their return to the front. They probably will, though Hamilton and Alonso have good records there and certainly have the acrobatic skills needed to push their cards around that track competitively (and remember that Alonso probably would have been on pole at Monaco had he not pranged a barrier in practice). There is however rain forecast, in which case all bets are off.

Suzuka follows that, and in a dry race the Red Bulls will likely disappear, with their unrivalled pace around the fast sweeps. We're possibly due a wet race there however (and when it rains in Japan it really rains), again all bets will be off in this scenario. Still, both Red Bull pilots will see the next two races, if dry, as a great opportunity to put clear blue water (or should that be clear energy drink?) between them and their rivals. If Red Bull pull it off then with three races left everyone else could be on their knees.

Of those remaining three races, first up is Korea. This is of course a bit of an unknown, as a new track. Further, its combination of long straights and uphill acceleration zones (which will likely suit McLaren), and fast and medium pace corners in the second and third sectors (which will likely suit Red Bull - as will the likely low-grip surface) make it a close call. Ferrari's 'halfway house' characteristics between McLaren and Red Bull may well come to the fore, as may their strength in braking and accelerating.

Brazil may be the toughest race for Red Bull - they are particularly likely to be short of breath in the uphill acceleration zone followed by the long pit straight (though Webber did win there last season). Nevertheless McLaren, despite having a nice long straight to benefit from, may struggle over the bumps, and Brazil may therefore see Ferrari to the fore. Massa always goes well there and could be in a position to disrupt others' races for Alonso's benefit.

That leaves Abu Dhabi - again there are two long straights that the McLarens will like, though it's hard to see Red Bull being too far away, given there's again a low grip surface and enough of a twisty bit for them to benefit from. Ferrari again will be close.

Given that of the remaining circuits, we have two that will likely suit the Red Bulls and three maybes, as well as that the Red Bulls have generally been fastest this season, I'll foolishly stick my neck out and say it'll be Webber's title (providing there are no disasters and that he sorts his starts out). Hamilton will likely rely on mistakes from the Red Bulls, or wet weather, to come out on top. Button will probably need these to the power of two. In McLaren's favour is that their Technology Centre does have form for pulling out amazing developments, and as things stand I'd suggest that they need one.

We should not, however, rule out the other Red Bull. It's easy to forget that Sebastian Vettel should really have won well over half of the races this season. Given trouble-free and mistake-free runs in each of the remaining races (both are massive 'ifs' of course!) it's not especially improbable that he would win five out of five. A fine run to fourth at Monza was also very timely in terms his state of mind as well.

That leaves Alonso, and he is a dark horse. The adaptability of the Ferrari between circuits may be key - it's hard to see any of the tracks really not suiting them, and at least two seem to actively suit them. Alonso also has momentum, which is often more important than anything else. I further do not think Alonso's having used eight engines will be an issue, he can of course use old units (and Vettel was in a similar position this time last year, and never took a grid drop for going over the engine limit). Alonso does need to avoid any more of the mistakes that have curiously peppered his season, and each of the remaining five circuits have things to hit relatively close to the track. He absolutely cannot afford another DNF.

As I said though, I'll call it for Webber - just. But I've been wrong plenty of times before.

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