Op-Ed: None of the drivers deserves the F1 title this year

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With three races left in the 2010 Formula 1 season, the drivers title is still very much up in the air. Five drivers remain in the hunt: Mark Webber, Fernando Alonso, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button.

In my opinion, none has performed so well that they clearly deserve the title. One will win, but I expect my reaction to be: “Meh.”

This contrasts dramatically with past seasons, when even in close races — 2008 and 2007 most notably — the eventual winner showed something special, something memorable, Hamilton’s last moment pass of Timo Glock or Kimi Raikkonen’s claiming three of the final four races (combined, certainly, with the McLaren implosion) included.

This year, though, all the top drivers have at least one huge “red flag” that will keep whoever finally wins from having a season as good as even Button’s much-debated one just last year.

Yes. I’d absolutely rate Button’s 2009 title higher than any of the 2010 ones. He took his smooth, silky driving style and applied it to a car seemingly perfectly suited for him. Did he “limp” home? A bit, but by then he could afford to given his early season domination. He knew what he had to do, and he did.

No one’s dominated this season though. No one’s taken 2010 and said, “This is my year.” And that probably sums up my problem with any of our quintet still in the title hunt. But there’s more:

Jenson Button:

His wins in Australia and China were due largely to really smart strategy and impeccable pit stop timing. Strategy and race craft are important, don’t get me wrong, but when it has come down to car versus car and driver versus driver, Jenson’s been wanting this season. He’s even a few points a drift of his own team mate.

Lewis Hamilton:

Lewis has had some great moments, some great passing / drives and a trio of wins. But his back-to-back mistakes in Italy and Singapore, when he could have (and should have) taken control of the drivers championship, are all but unforgivable. I know, I know — I understand the arguments about Lewis being a racer and that he shouldn’t change his style, which has proven so successful. I don’t question that. But he needs to realize that finishing sometimes is the key to the title (proven in 2009 by his now-team mate Button; Lewis’s 2010 is in many ways the counter-point to Jenson’s 2009). Add to it some car trouble, and his season isn’t one to remember.

Sebastian Vettel:

Ah, Australia. Ah, Spain. And, ah, ah, ah Turkey. For every high Vettel has enjoyed this season, he’s offered us a corresponding low. And just as his highs have probably been the loftiest, his lows have been at the very depths. But the greatest knock on Vettel is that he has had the best car (albeit with some early reliability problems) and he hasn’t been able to run away with the title. Heck, he’s 14 points down on his own team mate at this point. And even if he eventually pulls out the title win, I will remember 2010 for his failing to to live up to the potential of Adrian Newey’s car design. I will think that even if he doesn’t win. In terms of the car and his drives, Vettel probably should already have the title locked up. He doesn’t. That speaks volumes.

Fernando Alonso:

After winning the opening race at Bahrain, it seemed like Alonso might put together a magical first season at Ferrari. But it wasn’t to be, and not only because of the controversy in Germany. He drove terrifically in Monaco to claim sixth place, but only had to do so because of one of his string of uncharacteristic driving errors. And his mid-season — from Turkey to Germany, with the slight bump in Canada — was forgettable. He is making a push here at the end, but his year — like Vettel’s — will feel a bit disappointing, will seem like it never was all together. That might be a bit due to unfair expectations. Oh, and if he wins by less than eight points — forget about it.

Mark Webber:

I’d love to be able to write: “Mark Webber is our one exception. In a year when he was seemingly pushed into a No. 2 role, in a year when he’s definitely on the backside of his career, Mark discovered he had a great car and took the wheel and earned the championship.” Unfortunately, I don’t know that he’s had as good a year as his team mate, despite being ahead of Vettel. Vettel’s wins have been more dominating, his speed that much more impressive (which had to play into Webber’s push to claim fastest lap this past weekend) and bad luck more in Vettel’s side of the garage. Mark has his dramatic moment at the European Grand Prix, no doubt. But he’s seemed to be the fortunate one in the Red Bull garage, and it feels like he is leading the championship as much because Vettel, Alonso and Hamilton have failed to claim it as from his own dominating performance. (His Monaco drive was great, though.) He might win the title, but even if he does will anyone think he’s really better than Vettel? That’s a red flag.

Now, of course, there are three races left to change my mind. Webber is saying he needs one more win to help secure the title, and Alonso is telling everyone three podiums should do it. Under those two scenarios, I don’t see my mind being changed. If one of these five drivers can score two wins and a podium, though…. well, I’ll check back after Abu Dhabi.

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