Two-and-a-half constants above the chaos

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This time last year, Sebastian Vettel had 143 points out of a possible 150. In 2012, Fernando Alonso leads the title with 76 after six Grands Prix, having barely eked out half the points theoretically available to him. What a slacker, hey? Pull your finger out, Fernando.

Lewis Hamilton’s 89 points attained before Montreal last year would be enough for a big lead this time around, while Mark Webber (79 at the time) and Jenson Button (76) wouldn’t mind cranking the clock back either.

The only man to have scored more than his 2011 tally in any of the “top three” teams – Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull namely – is Alonso. And if you think about it, that anomaly beggars belief.

For all the talk of unpredictability this year, Alonso has been metronomic even in an initially woeful car. In half the races (China, Bahrain, Monaco) he has been just a gnat’s wing ahead of his team mate Massa on the track, in the other three he has obliterated him. It’s nothing short of staggering that with Mercedes, Sauber, Williams and Lotus-Renault all mixing it with Ferrari far more than before, Alonso has outscored his 2011 points haul (69) in the first six races.

Red Bull, of course, have not managed that. The team had 222 points (out of theoretical 258) this time last season and were already 61 points in front of McLaren in the 2011 constructors’ race.

This year’s haul to-date of 146 is far more modest but it grants the team a 38-point lead in the standings, again over McLaren.

Despite comparatively terrible qualifying performances, a lot of bleating about the good old trick diffuser days and about the Renault engine’s outright power, RBR are grinding out the results. The numbers are very different, but still consistent.

Webber (races): 4th, 4th, 4th, 4th, 11th, 1st.
Vettel (races): 2nd, 11th, 5th, 1st, 6th, 4th.
(Meanwhile, Alonso’s a little more up and down with 5th, 1st, 9th, 7th, 2nd, 3rd.)

Add in elements like Webber’s start-line difficulties, Vettel’s encounter with the tyre cliff face in China when running second, and the mystery wing woes in Spain, and these disappointing RB8s are quietly cleaning up at the front. If it weren’t for the lead Ferrari’s frankly improbable performances – Felipe Massa will tell you all about them – the Milton Keynes cars would be at the top of both trees. Little wonder when they’re the only team to win two races so far.

Now the question is: can we make a case for under-performing McLaren being the third (negative) constant on the grid? One that could scramble the positive pair’s consistency. Hamilton was the first driver – Alonso has since joined him – to bag three podiums, and his figures from qualifying are the most consistent and dominant of any fielded this season.

Hamilton (qualifying): 1st, 1st, 2nd, 2nd, 1st*DSQ*, 4th.

That’s predictability personified, in my book. Dull even. Yawn, yawn!

Hamilton’s problem, and McLaren’s, is simple: There’s no 2012 race other than Spain – the only way was up starting from the back – where he has finished as well as he started on the grid. Hamilton lost places for one reason or another in the other five. His race showings (3rd, 3rd, 3rd, 8th, 8th, 5th) are consistent too, but consistently below the McLaren’s obvious potential.

On the team level, McLaren racked up five podium finishes in just the first three races; the other outfits are all still chasing that without success. After six failed attempts at finding podium number six between them, Hamilton or Button – preferably both – must get up there in Montreal. Martin Whitmarsh may well be hoping for seven winners from seven races.

As for the lead driver, Alonso, one final constant may be of concern. He’s the only front-runner in the title race not to have run into any major Sunday difficulties this season. Alonso’s lesser finishes were the best even he could get out of the F2012 – and they were both on dry circuits in Shanghai and Bahrain.

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