And so to Japan, where it is mathematically possible for Sebastian Vettel, of Red Bull Racing, to wrap up the 2013 F1 world title. Such is his margin of dominance that with five rounds still to go, Vettel will win it if his closest challenger, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, finishes no higher than ninth. Even if Alonso does manage to score well, there is a distinct sense that he would only be delaying the inevitable.
Cue much navel-gazing and gnashing of teeth. Gadzooks, they cry, how dull is this? Vettel waltzes into the distance, pulverising at will, and comfortable enough in his superiority to make wisecracks about his car having illegal traction control. Hamilton feels sorry for the fans, writers feel sorry for the fans and the fans feel sorry for themselves, particularly when they get up disagreeably early on a Sunday morning to watch the denouement of the championship in far flung lands.
It is boring to watch, frankly. The last two races have only been made vaguely palatable (even to hardened F1 nuts) by battles for fourth place and thereabouts, and in Korea’s case by Felipe Massa, Adrian Sutil and the chap behind the wheel of that fire truck. Otherwise there hasn’t been much to say, and those whose job it is to comment and bring insight inwardly curse, because their job gets quite a bit more difficult. The temptation to bleat ‘something must be done!’ is almost irresistible. Bernie’s artificial rain showers, anyone? Strategically deployed fire trucks? Added time multi-ball?
No, no, no. As Vettel reminds us as if to excuse himself, Schumacher was much worse. He was. Senna and Prost swept all before them in 1988-9. Mansell was yawningly crushing in 1992. It’s not unprecedented, and it has been more mundane. Doff your cap to Vettel (because it’s not just Newey’s brilliance that is on display here). Salute the German wunderkind and his Red Bull team. Tolerate a couple more races where your instinct is to go back to bed.
Because it would be incredibly surprising if this is the case come March 2014. The rule changes are the principal saving grace, but also the teams whose 2013 efforts have been conspicuously hampered when they realised that this season was probably a lost cause. McLaren, you say – but also Mercedes and possibly even Ferrari. There are a number of teams for whom it is imperative – in some cases for the sake of their own survival – to be competitive in 2014. And that’s quite apart from what Dietrich Mateschitz might do when he catches on that his brand is under a great big BORING headline.
Vettel will win this championship, here in Japan or in India, and at an outside shot in Abu Dhabi. He utterly deserves it and plaudits that haven’t yet come his way will certainly do so when he is crowned with a fourth straight title. And his brilliance is enhanced rather than created by the talent around him, both in terms of his team and of his rival drivers. And so any criticism of him, or booing, or whatever, is definitely lacking in perspective.
*Perspective, too, for it was this morning that we received news of the death of Maria de Villota, the erstwhile Marussia test and reserve driver. Although I never met her, she was well-known for her lovely character in the paddock and her passing is as untimely as it is tragic. It is most sincerely to be hoped that some good, particularly for the Women in Motorsport foundation, will come from this sad day.