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Can anyone beat Sebastian Vettel?

After an incredible run of race wins, are we seeing the return of 2011 spec Vettel? Can his nearest challenger, Alonso, beat him in the title race?
Thursday, November 1, 2012

November 1st, 2112 (F1plus / Jack Leslie).- With four wins in four races, a car designed by a genius and huge amounts of momentum, there’s only one question in my mind. Are we already seeing the 2012 world champion? Can anyone beat Sebastian Vettel?

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With the title race being narrowed down to just two (mathematically four but something extreme would have to occur), with three races remaining all eyes were on Vettel and Alonso. These two are both looking for their third drivers titles, but who will get it? Can Fernando and Ferrari halt the winning streak of Sebastian?

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This winning streak started off in Singapore, after a bit of luck. Sebastian Vettel had been running second behind Lewis Hamilton, but little did he know he was about to take the lead. Hamilton’s McLaren suddenly slowed with a gearbox problem and the win was Vettel’s. After that, he controlled and commanded the race and won with a healthy 8 seconds in hand.

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That win was thanks to a bit of help from McLaren, but next time out in Japan we all knew Vettel would be up there. After dominating the race in 2009 and 2010, before being pipped to the victory by Jenson Button in 2011, we already knew that the Red Bull would suit the track. Suzuka is fast, flowing and needs full confidence in the car. Something that Vettel has in spades. He duly qualified on pole position, with team mate Mark Webber making it a front row lock out for Red Bull. At this point he was trailing Fernando Alonso in the championship by a fair margin, but Alonso’s race was over by the first corner. No points for him, 25 for Vettel after he dominated the race. It was an error free run, simply sublime. An error free race is something tricky to master, especially on the Suzuka circuit where mistakes come at a cost. He even had a 20 second gap by the chequered flag, easy or what!

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The Korean Grand Prix was next up, a track which, like India, has three very distinct and different sectors. Sector one is made up of three long straights which is seen as a Red Bull weak point. This has always been there downfall, with straight line speed meaning if cars behind were in the DRS zone they could not fight back. After another Red Bull 1-2 in Qualifying, thanks to the RB8 performing brilliantly in sector two and three, Vettel drove another blinder. He had a comfortable advantage over his nearest rival by the flag fall, leaping into the championship lead. It was then that I realised he was on a role.

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With the momentum of 3 race wins already, Vettel went on to dominate the Indian Grand Prix. After another Red Bull front row lock out in qualifying, he edged away from Webber. Something that is apparent with Sebastian’s driving is the confidence he has with the car. Even in the opening laps, he already has the confidence and feel for the car, meaning he can push earlier and get out of the 1 second zone for DRS. After a strong first stint, his being much longer than most, he continued to race well. I do not recall seeing him make a single mistake. The gap to runner up Alonso by the flag was 9 seconds, another size able advantage. He can also thank Mark Webber for holding up Alonso towards the end of the first stint, and beginning of the second. If Fernando had passed him at an earlier point, the gap would have been considerably less.

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So now we are moving on to Abu Dhabi, with Vettel heading the championship title. His advantage? 13 points. It may not seem like much when you think about it. 25 points for a win, it only takes 1 DNF for Vettel to lose the lead, but Adrian Newey has designed one of the most reliable cars on the grid.

That’s Red Bull’s secret weapon. Adrian Newey. He is world renowned for being the best Formula 1 car designer in the world, and is always on the ball. We often see him on our TV screens with a notebook and pen, surveying the competitors for new parts. We can expect a few more upgrades in the coming races, and if Newey has anything to do with them they will surely help Red Bull extend their advantage.

So after the Indian Grand Prix, the title race is effectively down to 2 drivers. Alonso and Vettel. Kimi Raikkonen is still mathematically in contention for the title but he needs wins and DNF’s from his rivals to take the crown. The lead two are pulling clear of the rest and leaving them behind, all eyes are on them.

So can anyone beat Vettel over the next few races? Let’s see what tracks the F1 circus is visiting.

Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit is one where Red Bull has been strong before. From 2009 to 2011, the team have won two of the three races. If it was not for some bad luck last year, where Vettel suffered a puncture at the second corner and spun off from the lead, we could have been looking at a 3 time Abu Dhabi GP winner. The RB8 should suit some sectors of the track, like the first few corners and the end of the lap. Ferrari, if they go with the straight line speed trick, should suit the long straights, while McLaren are typically good when mechanical grip is needed. Expect both McLaren and Ferrari to be strong, perhaps a much closer fight than what we saw in India and Korea.

After a 2 week break, where the pressure really will set in, we will arrive at a brand new venue. The Circuit of the America’s looks fast, and full of sweeping fast and medium speed bends. Cue the Red Bull domination. This is perfect for Red Bull, as it contains just 1 long straight, while also having some high downforce corners. Obviously we have no other previous races to look back on, so in theory anything could happen. It’s a level playing field for all.

The final round of the championship is Brazil. Sectors 1 and 3 should not suit the Red Bull, as it’s all about top speed. The middle sector will be where the time is for the RB8, but Vettel will surely have strong competition from Webber (who always excels on the Interlagos circuit). We saw Red Bull perform well at the 2011 Italian Grand Prix, the Monza track being all about top speed, so we will have to wait and see.

Alonso is the only one who can beat Vettel, but does Ferrari have the resources and momentum to claw back the lead in the championship? I’m not sure. He has the speed in the race, as proved in India, but in Qualifying he can not challenge the Red Bull's. I do not think the car is as fast as the Red Bull across the whole weekend, but in the race they can challenge. Vettel is driving beautifully, he has the best car, the best designer, he is one of the best drivers. Better than Alonso? That’s for another article, but looking at the last 4 races he really is in a class of his own.

Sebastian Vettel, Formula 1 2012 world champion? I reckon so.

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