Who can put an end to Vettel’s dominance?
2 June, 2011
Jun.1 (Daniel Chalmers) Sebastian Vettel’s 58 point gap at the top of the drivers’ championship is definitely assailable, but currently there is no rival consistent enough to take advantage.
Spain and Monaco have shown that during the race at least, Ferrari and McLaren have the pace to take on Red Bull and Vettel.
Under the old points system the young German’s lead is just over 20 points. Drivers have come back from this far back in the past. Kimi Raikkonen won the title in 2007 after being 26 points behind.
Christian Horner certainly isn’t taking things for granted: “Things can change very, very quickly. He has got himself into a great position, and he is seven points off a maximum score, but as we have seen in the last two weeks he has been pushed all the way by different competitors.”
However to close down a gap this big, it requires one driver to put together a sequence of strong results. Currently there are four drivers all fighting to be that person. They are taking points off each other in the process which is only making Sebastian’s position stronger.
So far Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Jenson Button and Mark Webber have been taking it in turns to be Vettel’s main rival during a race weekend.
All four men have finished second behind Sebastian in races this year. Hamilton is the only contender to have achieved that twice (plus to actually win a race).
Overall Hamilton looks like the biggest threat, but already on a couple of occasions we have seen him press the self destruct button.
If Lewis had been consistent and finished second to Vettel in every race the German has won he would only be 28 points behind the young German. That’s a whopping 30 points different to the Briton’s current predicament.
Finishing off the podium in Malaysia, Turkey, and Monaco has really proved costly for Hamilton. With a gap of 28 points Vettel would be feeling far less comfortable than he is now.
It would be a similar story if one of the other contenders had been more consistent so far.
2006 showed how a strong sequence of results can get you back into a title fight. After nine races Alonso was 25 points ahead of Michael Schumacher in the championship. Nobody gave Schumacher a hope of fighting back.
However in the second half of the season he went on a very strong run. He won five out of the next seven races. This brought him level with Alonso in the points standings with just two races left to run.
Only an engine failure in the penultimate race in Japan prevented Michael from winning an eighth world championship.
Schumacher was able to go on this long run and close this big gap because there were no other contenders, trying to beat Alonso to the title. Team mates to the title contenders Giancarlo Fisichella and Felipe Massa were clear number two drivers. They weren’t quick enough to take points off their title battling team mates.
Outside of Renault and Ferrari nobody else had produced a race winning car that could influence the title battle.
Currently it’s very difficult to see one of Vettel’s challengers going on a similar type of run to Schumacher’s in 2006.
Alonso’s chances appear to be far too dependant on what compounds Pirelli brings to the race. Ferrari is very competitive on the softer tyre compounds, but hopelessly uncompetitive on the new harder compound we saw in Spain.
When asked how important the tyre compounds are for Ferrari Stefano Domenicali said: “It is a fact that the performance this year, it is unfortunate to say that apart from Red Bull, you can put on the hard/soft/medium/’stone’ [tyres] whatever it is they are there, like Sebastian today.”
He added: “For sure our car is very sensitive to that condition but if you look also at the other teams it seems that this effect is also important on the other teams.”
At the moment Webber is finding it very hard to get to terms with the Pirelli tyres. He can’t switch them on in qualifying, and he appears to be struggling with tyre wear in the races. This is preventing him challenging Vettel at every race as he did last year.
When he is in the zone Hamilton’s form is devastating. However his form is very hot and cold. One race he is spectacular and making every overtaking move stick. Then in another he is making silly mistakes and throwing away cheap points. He has never won more than two F1 races on the trot which explains alot.
On his day Button is as good as anyone but is very sensitive to the setup on his car. When he is happy with the balance he can win races, but is far less competitive when it’s not to his liking.
The way things are going 2011 is more likely to be reminiscent of 2009. In the second half of the season Button and Brawn GP’s form dropped off. After winning the Turkish GP Button only scored two more podium finishes all season long.
This should have been the ideal opportunity for his title rivals Vettel, Webber, and Rubens Barrichello to close on him.
What actually happened is that they spent too much time falling over each other and making mistakes. All three lost too many silly points. Therefore neither of the trio went on a long enough consistent run to cause Button problems.
Another issue was the big teams including McLaren and Ferrari were getting their acts together after a poor start to the season. They took points off Button’s rivals, and helped Jenson maintain a reasonable gap in the championship table.
The main difference in 2011 is that it’s hard to imagine Red Bull’s form dropping off as much as Brawn GP’s did in 2009. They have a very strong backing (unlike Brawn GP at the time) and they have the genius of Newey to keep them at the front.
On his championship year Button told BBC Sport: “We didn’t have the resources, and we weren’t really willing to spend the money.”
“So we had a great car at the start of the year, but we didn’t keep it throughout the year, and these guys will.
“They’ve had a very quick car for two years now, so it’s going to be difficult.”
It’s very likely the competition is going to be much closer from now on, as McLaren and Ferrari are now consistently gaining on the Milton Keynes squad. However you can be sure Vettel is going to carry on being a feature in every race.
Unless one of his rivals can string a number of wins together he pretty much has this title sewn up. With the closeness of the competition behind Vettel it’s difficult to foresee any of his rivals being able to achieve that.
A colossal collapse from either Vettel or Red Bull is going to be needed for the likes of Alonso and Hamilton to have any hope. The damage has already been done.
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