Unless there are major mishaps and surprises during the final stretch of the Formula 1 season, the race for the drivers title is now down to three men: Red Bull’s Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso.
Webber leads the hunt with 220 points, while Alonso and Vettel are tied at 206 points, a piece. (The McLaren duo of Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, our last two champs, have fallen farther back. Hamilton has 192 points and Button 189.)
Of course, Webber’s lead would be seven points more had he managed to get around Vettel. Sitting at 227 to Alonso’s 206 would be a much nicer cushion — he could DNF a race and as long as Alonso didn’t win, he’s still have the title lead.
But Webber didn’t manage it. And the team — by what we can see, i.e. how they finished — didn’t order Vettel to let him by, either.
The question, harkening back to the Alonso/Felipe Massa pass earlier this season, is whether the team should have.
In the aftermath of the race, Webber is saying he has to win one of the final three races to secure the title:
“I need to win again in the future. I’m very confident I can do that,” he said.
“All in all a good day for all of us [at Red Bull] and I am very happy with my position,” added Webber.
“Two weeks ago it was Lewis [Hamilton struggling], then it was Fernando [Alonso].
“It [the championship scenario] is chopping and changing, but the most important thing is that the gap is going the right way.
“But reliability can still yet play a role, many things, lots of different circumstances. Obviously these guys have a bit less because they’re a few behind, but in the end, [I’m] confident.”
He sure had a close call at a win on Sunday. Just how big will that second off Vettel be? We’ll see.
Another way to think of this comes courtesy of Alonso (also from the BBC story linked above):
“I still think that [three more] podium finishes will be enough [to win it],” he said.
“On paper this was the perfect Red Bull track and we finished the weekend with three points lost to the leader of the championship, so we have to be happy.
“Of the 16 races of the championship, 15 were Red Bull circuits – and they won only seven.
“They did three times finishing first and second; and 12 times they didn’t.
“So in the remaining three races it will be difficult for them to be one-two in every race, because something always happens.
“If something happens, we need to take the opportunity. If not, it will be hard because in terms of speed there is no doubt that the Red Bull car has been dominant in 2010.”
I’d emphasize this from Alonso: “we finished the weekend with three points lost to the leader of the championship.” I wonder if he’d be saying the same thing had he lost 10 points.
So, raising the specter of the old “team order” debate, should Red Bull have made a choice this weekend and thrown its drivers title chips to Webber? Or is the team best off letting its two drivers battle it out? And is it, ultimately, the fair thing to do — and the one that gives fans the best racing and most honest competition?
Before you answer, I’ll toss in a final thing to consider: Alonso arguably has an extra seven points thanks to that pass of Felipe. If Alonso claims the championship by fewer than seven points, well… what will hindsight be telling Mark and Red Bull then?