With 2 races to go the title battle for 2012 is separated by just 10 points between Sebastian Vettel to the chasing Fernando Alonso. While the advantage seems to lay clearly with the blue and yellow team its worth noting that in 2010 Alonso held a 25 point lead over Sebastian Vettel with 2 races remaining, a lead which Vettel would overturn on route to his first world championship. Obviously in 2010 the RB6 had quite a substantial pace advantage over the F10, but never say never.
The qualifying disparity:
The most noticeable and in many ways only real difference between the F2012 and the RB8 as they currently stand is in qualifying. It is no shock that Red Bull in 2012 have taken 7 pole positions to Ferrari’s 2, the only driver who has gotten close to Red Bull of late is Lewis Hamilton, who put to halt their run of 3 front row lockouts in a row when he put his car on pole at Abu Dhabi.
The advantage of pole position can never be underestimated, the driver on pole gets a clean start and can gap the field almost instantly, he is less likely to get caught up in incidents and from that point onward can control his pace and tyre wear to the car behind.
This will be the real advantage Red Bull have from this point in, Sebastian’s qualifying pace is usually unbeatable and if he leads into turn 1 its very rare that another driver can catch him. The fact that for Alonso it appears to be that he will not only start behind the Red Bull’s, but at Abu Dhabi also a McLaren, a Williams and a Lotus, meant that he can never attack early on in the race and by the time he gets to the front Sebastian will be long gone.
The one question mark on this advantage is the pace that the #4 McLaren has been showing of late. Hamilton’s pole position at Abu Dhabi means that Red Bull no longer secure pole by default. If you are off pole you are not only behind other cars, but you are often on the dirty side of the track and vulnerable to attack at the start. While Red Bull certainly look strong for pole in the two remaining races it could be Lewis Hamilton who is really Alonso’s best friend.
Despite the gap in qualifying, the race pace between the Ferrari and the Red Bull are surprisingly similar. Recently not only does the Ferrari move forward ahead of its other main rivals during races, but they match Red Bull on race pace. At Abu Dhabi Fernando Alonso jumped Mark Webber at the start of the race, but despite Mark closing up on him in certain stages, Fernando could extend the gap during other points, meaning there were certain times in the race he held the advantage. The same is similar at both India and South Korea in which despite the fact Alonso never caught Vettel, the gap between them remained steady for most of the race. The situation last weekend appeared the gap had grown, as Vettel steamrolled the entire field from the back of the grid, however most of that advantage was due to perfect safety car timing for Sebastian and by the numbers the two were separated by only a couple of tenths on all out race pace, that’s including the fact Sebastian had a car specially modified for race pace. In this area, the two are very close.
Threat from above:
The last few races have taken place in areas which seem to be somewhat immune to rain. They say rain is the ultimate equalizer, but in 2012 it seems to be the most divisive element in the races. We’ve seen earlier in the year a McLaren that dominates in the dry but was as fast as a midfield car in the wet, the exact opposite was true of the Ferrari, earlier on in the season be it Fernando’s driving or the F2012′s inherit tyre characteristics, the second the heavens opened it seemed to be that Alonso gained half a second on the competition. This is not to say that the current spec F2012 would carry the same advantage, but you would have to think there’s a strong chance. Also Brazil is notorious for its rain and there is already a decent chance of a wet weekend at Austin, if this was to happen it throws everything we’ve discussed out the window.
Fernando has yet to suffer a mechanical DNF this season (i’m struggling to think of any mechanical problems he has suffered at all, even a KERS failure) while Vettel has had 2 alternator related DNF’s and Mark has fallen victim numerous KERS problems and gearbox penalties. The Ferrari’s of late appear to be bulletproof and any mechanical problems at this point could cost a world title.
Another advantage Red Bull hold is that they have recently completed 3 days of young driver testing following the Abu Dhabi GP. Ferrari took this testing day earlier on in the season and you could be certain Red Bull have taken a raft of data on new upgrades for the RB8 in coming races. This has to be advantage Red Bull, as they already hold a speed advantage, a tenth or two found in the long run or qualifying pace could prove decisive.
The advantage clearly lies with Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull to take their 3rd title on the trot. The fact they will be likely contenders for pole position while Fernando Alonso on a bad day could be mid-top 10 will look extremely positive for the Milton Keynes team. Also Fernando can’t drive to decent results to take the title, but has to actually beat Vettel in both remaining races makes it even less likely for the Spaniard. However, there are still a few unknowns in the title and one mistake could and most likely will lose either team the championship. It will be an exciting journey into the unknown at Austin, thats for sure.