October 9th, 2012 (F1plus / Paul Godley).-
Is Vettel now the favourite?
With Sebastian Vettel starting on pole position and Fernando Alonso starting down in 6th it seem fairly evident that today would be a race at which the gap at the top of the driver's championship would reduce. We've seen on numerous occasions this season that Fernando Alonso has had what you could describe as the rub of the green, usually because his nearest rival(s) has/have had a bad race. This time though it was the Spaniards turn to be on the end of the bad luck as a first corner coming together with Kimi Raikkonen brought an end to his race before it had really begun. In no way was Raikkonen to blame for the contact that saw the left rear tyre of the Ferrari pick up an instant puncture; something that Fernando doesn't appear to agree with.
This gave Vettel the chance to pull away at the front, in that eerily dominant way that we've come so accustomed to. He never once looked under any serious threat or pressure from behind and â€˜strolled' home to his 24th Grand Prix victory, matching that of the great Juan Manuel Fangio (a fact that brought Vettel out in tears). With the gap down from 29 points to just 4 points with 5 races remaining, who would you say is now favourite? The man with the points advantage? Or the man with the momentum, the back-to-back wins and the better car? With just 4 points between them and a possible 125 still on offer, anything can happen. But given what we've seen since Germany onwards, it's looking more and more unlikely that Fernando Alonso will be able to hold on at the top. Fernando Alonso vs Sebastian Vettel; a 5 race mini-championship. And it starts.. now!
Career saving drives for Massa and Kobayashi?
Felipe Massa and Kamui Kobayashi couldn't have probably picked a better place to take their first podium finishes of the season. We all know just how much pressure Felipe Massa has been under for what seems like a lifetime now, but his recent performances have shown that Ferrari should keep faith with him for at least one more year. Yes, he was helped out by the second corner chaos, but this was surely the best he's driven for a couple of seasons. His impressive speed throughout saw him jump the battling pair Kobayashi and Jenson Button and come out in 2nd place. A faultless drive from Massa really, but it must've left Alonso and Ferrari wondering a big 'what if?'
In fact it wasn't just Kobayashi's first podium of the season, it was remarkably the first of his Formula 1 career. Sergio Perez's performances this season have put Kamui under a lot of pressure to deliver; and today he certainly did that. He's been threatening for a while; remember he started on the front row at Spa and who knows what he could have done there. But for him to do it at his home Grand Prix in front of tens of thousands of adoring home fans was something truly special. The reception he got from the crowd when waiting to come out onto the podium was utterly superb. "Kamui! Kamui! Kamui!". (On a quick side note, what a fantastic crowd. The noise they make, the admiration they have and the dedication they show is just brilliant. What a great day for them all.) Kamui's smile is one that can only cheer you up and make you smile yourself. When he's on form is there a more spectacular, more exciting driver to watch? Congratulations Kamui, congratulations Sauber. 4 podiums already goes to show just what a great team and car they have built.
Has Grosjean learnt his lesson?
Romain Grosjean during the Japanese GP (LAT Photo)
Shall I put it bluntly? No. It's the 7th time this season that Romain Grosjean has been involved in some kind of incident on the first lap of a race. Now granted, not all of those have been his fault (as some seem to think), but today's most definitely was. It lead to these strong words from the man he came together with, Mark Webber.
He said: "I haven't seen what happened at the start but the guys confirmed it was the first-lap nutcase again, Grosjean.
"The rest of us are trying to fight for some decent results each weekend but he's trying to get to the third corner as fast as he can at every race."
"It makes it frustrating because a few big guys obviously suffered from that today. Maybe he needs another holiday."
"He needs to have a look at himself obviously. It was completely his fault. How many mistakes can you make, how many times can you make the same error with first-lap incidents?"
I think we can all agree that it was completely his fault, but what should the next step be? Another race ban, this time for 2 races maybe? A fine? Or should someone, whether that be in the team, part of the FiA or the GPDA, sit down and have a long hard talk with him? Something needs to change, and change soon. Grosjean clearly has a lot of talent, but these mistakes need to stop happening. It's damaging his reputation, the team's reputation and is obviously reducing the team's chances of snatching 3rd place from Ferrari in the constructors standings. I heard someone earlier say that Lotus should show him the door but for me at least, that's the wrong thing to do. We all know he has the talent, something just needs to change in his mentality, particularly early on in a race.
Ricciardo scores again
When Toro Rosso decided to axe both Jaime Alguersauri and Sebastien Buemi at the end of the 2011 season and replace them with Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne, it had many up and down the paddock scratching their heads. One maybe, but both? The car is definitely not been as competitive this season which hasn't always allowed Ricciardo and Vergne to show what they're truly capable of, but in recent races we've really started to see what these guys can do, in particular the Australian Ricciardo. He's now scored points in 3 of the last 4 races, running strongly in all of them. He appears to be a clean driver, one that knows how to race and how to defend, which may explain why he's only retired from one race this season. This recent upturn in form (and car performance) was much needed and has probably guaranteed that both drivers will be there again in 2013. The two are very evenly matched, so the performances and results that Ricciardo has put in of late will surely stand him in good stead later down the line.
Can Sauber catch Mercedes for 5th?
Can they? On recent form you'd have to say that Sauber have a great chance. Kamui Kobayashi's podium, the teams 4th of the season, sees them move to within just 20 points of the German giants. As good as Sauber are looking at the moment, the opposite can be said for Mercedes. It seems an awfully long time ago since we saw Nico Rosberg dominate the Chinese Grand Prix. The car just looks a shadow of its former self as Nico and the departing Michael Schumacher seem unable to challenge for any major honours. Today marked another race where no points scored, although we'll never know what Rosberg would have been capable of given the contact with Bruno Senna. If Perez had finished the race, say in 5th or 6th, then the fight would certainly be on. Sauber's inability to get both cars home with a strong finish has cost them a fair few points this season, but with 5 rounds left and with two drivers bang in form, they'll certainly fancy their chances of finishing the season as the 5th highest scoring team.