How Vettel can win the title in America...and how Alonso can take the title to the wire
Considering the various title permutations ahead of the U.S. GP
By Mike Wise. Last Updated: 13/11/12 4:45pm
Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso: The last two men standing in the title race
It's that time of year: there are two races of the season left and the thoughts of F1 fans inevitably drift towards the 'what ifs?' of Sebastian Vettel's title fight with Fernando Alonso.
Vettel holds a ten-point lead heading into this weekend's U.S. Grand Prix and given his recent record of success, it's best to start looking at possible outcomes this weekend from the defending Champion's perspective.
This is, after all, a man who has just won four grands prix on the trot and who finished third in Abu Dhabi after starting from the pitlane. One suspects Vettel could have started that race in Dubai and still finished on the podium.
In lieu of such dominant form, then, the most obvious World Championship permutations are as follows:
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* If Vettel wins in Austin then Alonso needs to finish fourth (or higher) to keep the title fight alive;
* If Vettel finishes second then Alonso must finish eighth or higher;
* If Vettel finishes third then Alonso needs to finish in the points;
...which is another way of saying that Vettel can take the title with a podium if Alonso fails to score. The Spaniard has failed to finish in the points only twice this year, retiring on both occasions after a collision at the first corner.
If Vettel finishes off the podium (which he has not done since the Hungarian GP) or fails to finish (ditto Italy) then the World Championship will go to the wire regardless of where Alonso finishes.
Perspectives might shift, of course. There is, in a sense, a levelling of the playing field this weekend given that the teams have yet to race at the Circuit of the Americas. Perhaps that might help Ferrari and Alonso suddenly find the tenths they need in qualifying?
Then there is the development war. The Scuderia have been on the backfoot all season long in this regard, but might they make a decisive step when it matters most?
A victory for Alonso seems far less likely (he has not led a lap since winning in Germany back in July) and yet, besides those retirements in Belgium and Japan, he has finished on the podium in every race since the summer break.
* If Alonso finishes fourth or higher the title race stays alive regardless of what Vettel achieves;
...which suggests that if Alonso can stay out of trouble this weekend, then the likelihood is that he can take it all the way to Interlagos.
Then again, he might only get as far as the first corner before being assaulted by (insert name of potential miscreant here). Or Vettel's remarkable run might suddenly, somehow, come to an end? He stroked the nose of his RB8 after claiming a fourth straight win in India; whether the run-in becomes a Frankel-style romp remains to be seen.
It's a two-horse race now, but F1 has a habit of throwing up unlikely hurdles.