When the chequered flag comes down at the Japanese Grand Prix this weekend, we could be a step closer to knowing who will be this year’s Formula One world champion. What is more likely, though, is that there will still be five contenders separated by only a handful of points, each as convinced as the other that the title will be theirs.
Reigning champion Jenson Button reminded everybody, not least his doubters, just how close the standings are when he explained last week why he still believes himself to be firmly within reach of the title, despite being 25 points behind Mark Webber. “I think the new points system has amplified what people think of the standings, but I’ve always imagined the points as they would have been under last year’s system… in old money, I’m 10 points off Mark. And, with four races to go, that’s not much at all.” Despite three retirements in the past four races, Button’s teammate Lewis Hamilton seems to have come round to a similar mentality, recovering from his low spirits after the Singapore GP to announce the re-launch of his campaign. The wide grins of Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel following Singapore suggested that they too remain determined to claim victory.
While the Red Bull and McLaren drivers boast of their confidence, though, there is little doubt that all four have been masking their concerns surrounding the sudden emergence of a very serious threat: Fernando Alonso. The idea of the two-time world champion in a Ferrari has always been daunting, but following his victory at the season opener in Bahrain, Alonso’s car simply did not appear fast enough to make him a serious contender for the title. This began to change during the controversial German Grand Prix, but it was at Monza a few weeks ago that Alonso made his ambitions crystal clear. With two consecutive victories, Alonso has reminded the rest of the paddock of his extraordinary talent. He has always had the skill and the determination to win a third title, and now he has the car to do it.
In the crucial few races that remain on the calendar, Alonso is the driver most likely to keep his cool and perform consistently. He is well-known for his ability to remain calm under pressure (on the track at least) and with two championships already under his belt, he will not be as desperate as his competitors to win. Determined, yes, but not desperate. Webber, Vettel, Hamilton and Button are all wise enough to know that Alonso is unlikely to make any mistakes and gift them any points. If they want to win the championship, they will have do it themselves.
All of this means that Alonso is a good bet for the title, but he is far from being a shoo-in. Mark Webber will be keen to remind everyone that he is still at the top of the points, and Hamilton has shown time and time again that he is never a man to give up. With so many drivers still in the battle, the only thing guaranteed is that this weekend’s race is unmissable.