The run-in 2010: who will take the crown?

With four (possibly three) races to go in this 2010 season, takes a look at the four realistic title contenders and predicts the winner of the 2010 drivers’ championship.

Mark Webber Webber has had what is without doubt his best season ever, and has grown in confidence and belief as the year has progressed. His ability to modify his driving technique, specifically throttle input with the Red Bull’s revolutionary blown diffuser, has been a revelation. He found out very early on in the season that he could increase rear downforce by putting the throttle down early, and changed his style accordingly. The concomitant increase in performance and speed has unsettled his rivals, given as they are to underestimating him. His position as championship leader at this point owes as much to experience and wile as it does to outright speed, but no-one would deny that the affable Australian merits the title on the grounds of sheer hard graft. His weakness is twofold, though: first, his team lack conviction that he is the horse to back in the team, given his team-mate’s brilliance; and there is the slight, faint idea that he lacks that final killer instinct. But the Red Bull will be competitive at all the remaining tracks, so do not expect anything less than runner-up from Webber. Prediction: 2nd

Fernando Alonso After an inconsistent and controversy-plagued early and mid-season, the Asturian is coming good just at the right moment. There is a real momentum and belief behind Ferrari that their better recent performances and Alonso’s wins at Monza and Singapore presage a heroic and unexpected championship win, in the manner of Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. Alonso, meanwhile, is nothing short of exemplary on track, and will fight tooth and nail with his competitors for this title. The fact that the useful Felipe Massa is committed to helping the Spaniard is a bonus that cannot be ignored. Alonso’s only theoretical weakness lies in the fluctuating performance of the Ferrari at the tracks which remain. If it’s there or thereabouts, though, the title’s his. Prediction: 1st

Lewis Hamilton As much as Hamilton’s driving has been mostly wonderful this season, possibly the best ever from the talented Englishman, his two non-finishes at Monza and Singapore have effectively ended his 2010 aspirations. Why? Two reasons. The perception is that he feels he has his back to the wall now, and so he will have to win or come second, basically, at the remaining events. This kind of pressure is an incentive, but it may be too big an ask. The second reason is that the McLaren is by a distance the third best car on the grid now, with its only trump card being its reliability. It would be truly surprising if McLaren came to Suzuka, Korea, Brazil or Abu Dhabi with the fastest package. For this reason, it’s difficult to see Hamilton taking the crown. Prediction: 4th

Sebastian Vettel Vettel is one of the best drivers ever in the sport, it is argued. What other mortals can win in a Toro Rosso? It’s just that, this year…he hasn’t quite been as good as we thought he might be. He has been rattled, frankly, by Webber’s adaptability and pace. Early seasons wins that should have been, like Bahrain and Melbourne, have crept into his psyche until we now have a man who makes uncharacteristic errors, like crashing into Jenson Button at Spa. If he had kept his head, he might have already been world champion. As it is, he will have to learn from this year, and use it to make himself even stronger in future. His sheer talent, though, coupled to the speed of his steed, will make him a contender til the very last race. Prediction: 3rd

Jenson Button Button has been a good deal better this season than many thought he would be. It has been a season where his fabled smoothness and consistency have come into their own as championship-winning qualities. In contrast to his illustrious team-mate Hamilton, whom many thought would have him for breakfast, Button even looks like the better McLaren bet for the title, if only for his knack of staying out of trouble. But Button’s inability or unwillingness to make dynamic overtaking manoeuvres render him only an outside candidate for the title. He needs the others to trip over each other, which although not impossible, is unlikely. Prediction: 5th