Go the distance and keep off the ropes: Imperative when fighting for a Formula One World Driver's Title. While the 2012 season saw a straight heavyweight bout between Sebastian Vettel in the blue corner and Fernando Alonso in the red, this season more contenders enter the ring. Mounting a challenge and eliminating the neutral corners are: Kimi Raikkonen in the black corner and Lewis Hamilton in the silver. With Kimi not pulling his punches in the black corner only trailing Vettel by thirty eight points and journeyman Lewis merely a further point behind, a four way heavy weight contest across the remaining nine rounds ensues.
Fernando Alonso had a good start to the season in the first round in Australia, thanks to a clever tyre strategy resulting in a second place, but his challenge was dealt an early crushing blow following his retirement from the Malaysian Grand Prix with front wing damage, while blue corner contender, Vettel went on to take a below the belt win at the expense of team mate Mark Webber. China saw the red corner deal a counter punch to the German taking the win, while Seb could only manage fourth. His eighth position at round four in Bahrain compared with a Vettel victory was a flash knockdown for Fernando as he got straight back up to win in Spain. Down for the count, the blue corner retired in Britain, allowing Alonso to take advantage and reduce the points deficit slightly with a third place; a deficit stretched again following only fourth and fifth place finishes in Germany and Hungary respectively.
|Alonso celebrates his home win with the Spanish flag. Photo: www.adelaidenow.au.com|
Alonso is of the opinion Ferrari can still repeat the challenge they mounted for the Championship last year,
“There are still nine races to go and the points available are more than enough. The potential is there so I see no reason why we can't fight right to the end of the Championship like we have always done.”
Indeed, to assume Alonso is down and out in terms of winning the Championship would be nonsensical . In 2012, he was on the podium, although not the top step, in every race after Hungary except those he retired from, and since being at Ferrari, he has always gone the distance with the exception of 2011 when Vettel had the title wrapped up in Suzuka. He is the master at coercing the car to squeeze out ethereal performance unseen by others. A lot of his results have been achieved through his wizardry and in particular this season, his electric starts. His controversial recent comments suggest a desire for a car that matches these talents and after four years of wringing the life out of his prancing horse, isn't he entitled to want a little more from the team? Fernando Alonso has a good chin, he has to ability to absorb the punches and stay standing. He will never be out for the count.
After starting the 2013 bout with a great victory in Australia, Kimi Raikkonen has looked like a serious contender to Vettel for the championship. Eric Boullier had the highest praise for his star driver following his second place in Hungary,
“I would have to give Kimi ten out of ten. He's done a terrific job right from the beginning of the season and his remarkable run of twenty seven consecutive points finishes speaks for itself. No matter what happens he's always there as we saw in the final laps at Monaco.”
The black corner and Kimi have delivered consistent body punches, blows that eventually wear contenders down. They haven't suffered the knock out retirements experienced by Vettel and Alonso and have been one of the teams more suited to the 2013 tyres. Benefiting from the ability to nurture their rubber more successfully, they have secured valuable points through pit strategy, demonstrated in the last round when Kimi scored second place using a two stop strategy on a track with a temperature exceeding fifty degrees.
In 2012 Kimi had a strong round in Belgium and took the win in Abi Dhabi, but generally his form in the other rounds in the second half of the season didn't match his earlier prowess; something he will need to improve this year to keep that championship belt in reach. The black corner contender himself believes he will need to do more to secure the title,
“We're happy how we've done but we're here to try to win races and if we keep finishing second and third like we've done many times this year, it's probably not enough for the championship. The best thing today when we finished second we gained a few points on Sebastian, so it's better than nothing but with a win it would have been a much bigger difference.”
To truly take the fight to the Red Bull driver in the blue corner, Raikkonen will need to trade his consistent body punches for a few liver punches, especially in qualifying, delivering devastating blows to paralyse and defeat his rival.
|Kimi will need more of these bigger blow punches. Photo: www.skysports.com|
Entering the ring in the silver corner is Lewis Hamilton who has achieved third places at three rounds, a knockout win in Hungary, plus a scattering of fourth and fifths to bolster his points tally; all of which sees him lying in third place in the championship usurping Alonso's position.
Knowing he has the potential and ability to fight for the championship but having no expectations due to the initial performance of the Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton has been the journeyman until the bout reached Hungary. The surprised tones in his voice heard over team radio following his stunning qualifying lap in Budapest were testament to this. What a difference a day makes. Following his glorious win, journeyman is a term no longer in his vocabulary,
“This year I feel I have a car that can win ten races. If we can continue with that qualifying pace, get ourselves upfront and have the tyres working as they did, we can fight with them. The Mercedes is different to other cars I've driven. It's one of the best. The 2008 McLaren was pretty good. I want to say the Mercedes is even better than that.”
|Having scored his first win for Mercedes, there is no stopping Lewis. Photo: www.telegraph.co.uk|
Hamilton's struggles to get used to the W04 following six years piloting a McLaren seem to have metamorphosed into a capacity to secure the championship belt for himself, a belief voiced by Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn,
“It's taken a little while but I see some great signs, particularly at the last few races. Another thing is to pick up momentum and start to move in the right direction. We honestly don't know where the limit is, we are on a journey with Lewis, and we don't know where the limits are.”
Dropping showboating punches with speed over one lap since the start of the season with seven out of ten pole positions secured, it now seems Mercedes are backing this up with a car that can maintain the form throughout a race. With tyre degradation problems appearing to have been sorted for Hungary, despite being exiled from the Young Driver's Test at Silverstone in July, there could be no stopping them. The silver corner partnership between Lewis and Mercedes could go the distance.
The next two rounds at Spa and Monza will be crucial to Vettel's challengers. He excels at the final flyaway races. Each of the other fighters have the ability to take the 2013 driver's title, setting the second half of this season's bout up to be a real barn burner; a nail biter, one so close it is hard to predict who will deliver that final uppercut blow and come out on top. Just the way we like it.