McLaren’s drivers have conceded that they are effectively now out of the chase for the world championship.
After Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel won in Suzuka with title leader Fernando Alonso out at the first corner, pundits up and down the pitlane agreed that the pair will now have a head-to-head battle for the championship over the last five races of 2012.
Mathematically, however, there are still plenty of contenders, including Lewis Hamilton who is 42 points behind.
But, referring to Vettel and Ferrari’s Alonso, the departing McLaren driver said after Suzuka: “Anything can happen but at the moment it kind of is a two-horse race.”
When told about Hamilton’s comments, teammate Jenson Button admitted it “looks that way”.
Even McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh acknowledged: “He (Alonso) is under pressure, more pressure frankly from Sebastian than from us but we have closed that gap and we have five races to go.”
His Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner also said Alonso and Vettel are the favourites, adding: “You can’t rule out the others but whoever does the best job over the next five races will ultimately prevail.”
It may be a two-horse race, and Alonso may still be leading by 4 points, but most pundits believe Vettel is now the favourite, given the superiority of his car in Japan.
“It seems,” wrote O Estado de S.Paulo correspondent Livio Oricchio, “that we are witnessing a repeat of the 2010 championship.
“The difference is that Vettel is more mature now and the gap to Alonso is only 4 points. In 2010, five races to the end, Vettel was fifth, 24 points behind the leader.”
The disappointed Alonso said before leaving Japan that, “If the enemy thinks of the mountains, attack by sea; and if he thinks of the sea, attack by the mountains.”
Originally, they were the words of a 17th century Japanese warrior, to which El Confidencial journalist Javier Rubio replied: “Yes, but to attack by the sea, you need a boat.”
He is referring to Ferrari’s flagging fortunes with the F2012, with Italy’s authoritative La Gazzetta dello Sport agreeing that Red Bull’s dominance in Japan was “scary”.
“One can only hope that the championship for Ferrari is not already lost,” the sports daily added.
A survey in the Spanish sports newspaper Marca showed that, of the 4,700 voters, 47.7 per cent believe Alonso will win the title, compared to 47.1pc for Vettel.
Only 3.6 voted for Kimi Raikkonen, with Lewis Hamilton attracting 1.6pc.