Yesterday evening’s superb US Grand Prix provided the fans with a wonderful spectacle at a great new track. Won by the peerless Lewis Hamilton, the race was a great advert for the merits of European-style racing, too, and the organisers and Mr Ecclestone should be congratulated on taking the sport back to the heart of the United States.
So what was the highlight? Turn One? All the overtaking? That wicked middle section of turns three to six, which we Englishmen can proudly say is modelled on our own Maggotts/Becketts? No, none of those. What was perhaps best was that real drama lay only just below the surface at any given moment. Millions around the world gasped when Sebastian Vettel’s rear right tyre came within two inches of Lewis Hamilton’s front left on lap 42 as the Englishman went for the killer move. Why? Because Vettel is in contention for a title that had looked all but his a couple of races back. Thirty seconds down the road was a man in a red Ferrari, caring not a whit about the politics of his getaway, and crucially for Vettel, only one place behind. So can Alonso nick that title in Brazil?
All logic suggests not. The Red Bull RB7, whose team have this year taken a third constructors’ title (magnificently), is quicker than any other car on the grid in most circumstances. It is pointedly quicker, moreover, than the Ferrari of Alonso. It has usually been reliable this season – perhaps more confidence-inducing than in previous seasons. Vettel, the man in control, does not generally have off days, and infrequently succumbs to pressure.
And yet, and yet. McLaren show their usual late-season rapidity, turning up to the party after the prettiest girls have already got with the prettiest boys. But they could throw a McLaren nut-tightening to optimal device [spanner] into the ongoing mechanics of development and procedure [works]. Especially in the shape of a fired-up and on-form Lewis Hamilton, who is yet again proving that he is every bit as good as the two title contenders. Previous evidence at Interlagos suggests it’s not a Red Bull track as such, moreover, and the Brazilian end-of-term atmosphere could presage a kind of hell-for-leather recklessness from other drivers and teams with nothing to lose.
Then there’s reliability. What it is about Renault alternators in Red Bull cars – that don’t seem to work – as opposed to Renault alternators in Lotus cars – that do seem to work – is beyond a mere journalistic brain. They don’t like it though. Perhaps it’s something to do with the incredible aerodynamic efficiency of the Newey machines that freaks them out…anyhow, that very beast bit Mark Webber in Austin and it may bite again. Vettel is worried. How do you solve a problem that seems to be beyond reason?
Reason suggests, too, that the numbers will suit Vettel. But then there’s the feeling again – just how good is Vettel at playing percentages? If Alonso wins – far-fetched as it may seem – he only needs fourth. I cannot recall a single race where Vettel has driven meekly to fourth in the way a Prost or a Button might do. He commands, he excels, he grinds into the dust – a compulsive relentlessness that might just be the undoing of the king of rational dominance.
As may the weather. Torrential rainstorms can be as difficult to foresee in Brazil as they do in Malaysia, say. Much was made of Alonso’s hunch that he would still be fighting for the title after the US race, but other fans I’ve spoken to also share a kind of premonition that something ‘will happen’ in Interlagos to bring the title to the Ferrari man. Be it support for the underdog, be it a widespread conviction that the Asturian merits the 2012 championship more, be it plain old superstition, it nevertheless sits on shoulders just a week before the final race.
It will be weighing heaviest on Sebastian Vettel.