Monday, 8 October 2012

Into the final stretch we go...

It's always said that the true sign of any great champion is the ability to produce the goods when it really matters. Formula One world champion Sebastian Vettel has been on the cusp of the title race for much of this season but as we enter the final quarter of the campaign, two successive grand prix wins in Singapore and Japan have put the 25-year-old in prime position to retain his crown for a second time.

May the best man win: Vettel and Alonso have five races left to determine their fates
Only compatriot Michael Schumacher (2000 - 2004) and Argentinian Juan Manuel Fangio (1954 - 1957) have managed to claim the championship more than two years consecutively, so a place in history beckons for Vettel. Just four points separate him and the championship leader Fernando Alonso with five races remaining and given that the former has recorded victories at four of those tracks within the last two years - the United States Grand Prix is a new addition for 2012 - he will certainly fancy his chances of sealing the elusive hat-trick.

Triumphs in Brazil and Abu Dhabi in 2010 and Korea and India in 2011 saw Vettel end the previous two campaigns in superb fashion but he will be wary of the fact that the man who profited as much as anybody from his retirements in Korea in 2010 and Abu Dhabi in 2011 was Alonso who finished first and second place respectively. 

The tide is turning
Since taking 121 points from races five (Spain) to eleven (Hungary) - Vettel claimed just sixty-nine points over the same period - Alonso has only managed to score thirty points from four races to Vettel's sixty-eight.

The German has the momentum and the experience to get himself over the line but he knows that any slip-ups will almost definitely be capitalised on by the Spaniard. The form of the Ferrari driver may have taken a turn for a worst but as a two-time world champion he won't let that affect him.

Comparison of Alonso's results in the first half and second half of the 2005 and 2006 seasons 
Races 1 - 10:
3rd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 2nd, 4th, 1st, Ret, DNS, 1st (69 points from 10 races)
*Raikkonen bettered Alonso's result on three occasions (3/10)
Races 11 - 19:
2nd, 1st, 11th, 2nd, 2nd, 2nd, 3rd, 3rd, 1st (64 points from 9 races)
*Raikkonen bettered Alonso's result on five occasions (5/9)

Races 1 - 9:
1st, 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, 1st (84 points from 9 races)
*Schumacher bettered Alonso's result on two occasions (2/9)
Races 10 - 18:
5th, 2nd, 5th, Ret, 2nd, Ret, 2nd, 1st, 2nd (50 points from 9 races)
*Schumacher bettered Alonso's result on six occasions (6/9)

His back-to-back titles in 2005 and 2006 may seem like a long time ago now, however, the manner in which he achieved them will stand him in extremely good stead. Despite coming under intense pressure from Kimi Raikkonen in 2005 and Schumacher in 2006, Alonso did what he had to do and gradually accumulated the necessary points to guide him to success. In both cases, his most impressive sequence of results came in the first half of the season. Thereafter, there was a lot more emphasis on grinding out the points and putting all his efforts into finishing as close to his rival as he could, if indeed he wasn't able to finish ahead of them (see above).

The 31-year-old will have to draw on these battling qualities once more to fend off the challenge of Vettel but such has been the competitiveness and unpredictability of Formula One this season, anything could happen. It might not be pretty from the eventual champion but success at the end of such an incredible campaign would mean an awful lot.

Raikkonen or Lewis Hamilton could even make a late push despite finding themselves thirty-seven and forty-two points off the pace respectively. Whatever the outcome, 2012 will go down as a landmark season for motorsport's centre piece.

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