With just three rounds remaining, the 2010 championship race took an interesting turn with the McLaren pairing of Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton perhaps looking the least likely of the five championship contenders to take the Drivers’ title.
After their fourth and fifth placings at Suzuka, Button and Hamilton are now 31 and 28 points respectively behind championship leader Mark Webber, and the team will need a superhuman result – not to mention a little bit of luck – to close the gap.
After a difficult Japanese Grand Prix – marred by a practice smash, a five-place grid penalty and a gearbox problem during the race – Hamilton categorically stated: “Podiums won’t do it. Wins will get it if the others have problems. But if Red Bull finish all the races then it’s a walkover.”
“If we don’t turn up in Korea with some good improvements to get us near the Red Bulls, it is almost impossible,” added Button. “I would like to think we don’t have to hope Red Bull crash or have reliability issues and we have a car to challenge them. But when they have the pace they had here, they can cruise it.”
The man further up the championship challenge – tied on points with Sebastian Vettel – is Fernando Alonso, with the Ferrari driver sitting just 14 points adrift.
“To be world champion I need one more win and two podiums,” a mathematically astute Alonso told La Stampa.
As for fellow second-place runner Vettel, he only has his team-mate to beat. In identical equipment, the outcome will rely on driver skill and a little bit of luck, it would seem.
“[Webber’s] 14 point lead is of course an advantage,” Vettel said, after easily winning the Japanese Grand Prix.
“If he wins again, it will be difficult for all of us,” he told Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport. “But anything can still happen.”
His confidence was no doubt boosted by a straightforward win in Japan, from which he emerged victorious in easily the quickest car on the circuit.
“Without sounding arrogant, I would say I always had Mark under control,” he is quoted by Bild. “I could see him all the time. He was one, two or three seconds behind. Every time he came a bit closer, I went on the gas a bit more.
“It’s looking okay. If I win the next three races, everything will be fine, so that must be my goal.”
And as for Webber, well he could join the F1 greats and become the first Australian since Alan Jones to win the Drivers’ Championship, a feat achieved some 30 years ago.
Whichever way it eventuates, we hope the rest of the season remains as thrilling as the previous 16 rounds.