With six races left in the Formula One season, there’s little doubt that Sebastian Vettel will win his fourth consecutive world championship, alien invasions and plagues of locusts notwithstanding.
After scoring his seventh win of the season on Sunday in Singapore, the Red Bull driver pushed his championship lead to 60 points – more than the points received for two race wins – which likely means his closest rivals’ teams will now switch to developing their 2014 cars. With only a handful of races left and no chance of catching the high-flying Vettel, there’s no point putting resources into chasing the ghost of titles already lost, especially when the pursuit will compromise the ability to field a competitive car in 2014.
Even the usually low-key Red Bull driver let his guard down on the podium after taking the victory in Singapore and hinted that the title is already in his grasp.
“Obviously we’re in a very good position, very strong position, but I’m enjoying the moment,” he said.
“I love racing and the car is fantastic and it doesn’t happen by accident. Days like this it’s just a pleasure to be in the car. The guys are completely committed, fully behind us, so it’s great.”
Unless there is divine intervention, Vettel will soon become the only driver to win his first four titles consecutively and join Michael Schumacher (seven), Juan Manuel Fangio (five), and Alain Prost (four) as the only drivers to have each earned four or more world championships.
Drivers get 25 points for victories, meaning a total of 150 points is still up for grabs in the final six stops of the 2013 calendar. But with every win – Singapore marked his third consecutive triumph – Vettel pushes the world championship farther out of the reach of rivals. To make matters worse, the next three venues – Korea, Japan and India – are races where he led every lap on his way to convincing wins in 2012.
So far in 2013, Vettel’s average start has been second on the grid and his average finish is third, even including a 21st in July’s British Grand Prix where he retired with a gearbox problem. Things are so much in his favour that if Vettel drove home in his average finishing position for the next six races, the only way the second-placed driver in points, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, could take the title would be by winning all of them. And even the talented Spaniard, who has kept Ferrari in the title fight – where it has no business being – for the second consecutive year, had to admit the championship has slipped away, again.
“Well, obviously we have to be realistic,” two-time world champion Alonso said after Singapore.
“A few races to go already, the gap is still increasing every weekend and now it’s 60 points. So, as I said, we need to be honest with ourselves and know that we need a lot of luck. We don’t need luck in Korea; we need luck in Korea, in Japan, in India, in Abu Dhabi. We need luck every weekend if we are one second off the pace.”
Alonso and his 60-point deficit make him the only driver with a remote chance of dethroning Vettel. Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton is third overall, but the 2008 world champion is 96 points back, with 2007 world champion Kimi Räikkönen, of Lotus, two markers further adrift in third. In all, five racers still have a mathematical shot at snatching the title from the Red Bull driver, but essentially Vettel would have to be hit by lightning to make it possible.
Vettel’s dominance has become so predictable that many fans now boo the young German after he wins. It happened in Monza two weeks ago following his victory in the Italian Grand Prix and again Sunday in Singapore, where he was more than half-a-minute ahead of Alonso at the chequered flag.
“As long as they keep booing, we are doing a very good job, so that’s the way I see it,” Vettel said.
“It’s normal in sports if some people support one driver then they don’t like another driver to win. The parade lap was quite nice and also the lap after the chequered flag there were a lot of people cheering. Obviously, I didn’t give them the most exciting race but on days like this, I really don’t mind.”
Unfortunately, Formula One may only have itself to blame for the discord initiated by Vettel’s runaway title after it allowed tire supplier Pirelli to revert back to its 2012 rubber construction after the British Grand Prix due to several dramatic failures in that race. At the time, it was thought that the swap back to the 2012 specification would favour Red Bull, which was having trouble getting the most from the rubber, while penalizing the two teams that had designed their cars to suit the tires, Ferrari and Lotus – which were also the outfits that had shown they could challenge Vettel on most weekends during the races prior to the switch.
The move back to the 2012 construction happened at the year’s ninth race in Germany and since then Vettel has won four of five races, while neither Ferrari nor Lotus have been able to challenge for wins.
“I think we started in a good way, we were competitive in Australia, maybe not in qualifying but in the race we were taking care of the tires very, very well, together with Lotus,” Alonso said.
“We won in China, we won in Spain and then we seemed to lose a little bit of performance, especially when the 2012 Pirelli tires came back so that was probably our point in the championship – when they changed the tires, we said ‘bye, bye.’”
For more from Jeff Pappone, go to facebook.com/jeffpappone