I’m pretty sure that The Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka in 2012 won’t go down in F1 folklore as one of the all-time greats. Well, hearing the Japanese fans chant the name of home-race hero Kamui Kobayashi after his battling 3rd place finish was definitely a non-racing highlight of the year so far. But this could be the day the heralded the turning point in this season’s Driver’s Championship table.
Going into the race, Championship leader Fernando Alonso had a sizeable lead of 29 points over his nearest rival Sebastian Vettel. Both Double World Champions, both held in the esteem of being two of the finest of the generation, along with Lewis Hamilton in that bracket.
Saturday saw Vettel claim the pole position that would take him to third in the all time list, behind the great Ayrton Senna and compatriot Michael Schumacher. Main rival Alonso qualified 6th after a penalty for McLaren’s Jenson Button.
The race start was a seemingly traditional perfect getaway from Vettel, who scampered into a lead before the first corner. Meanwhile, Alonso was busying himself next to the Championship’s third placed man (and Vettel’s badminton partner!) Kimi Raikkonen. Alonso came across to his left further and further, pushing Raikkonen wider and wider until they got their wheels mixed up going into the first corner, sending Alonso into a spin and putting him out of the race. From then on, Vettel had one of his 2011-spec races from the front to take an unassailable eventual 20-second lead to the flag. Definitely an ominous statement from Red Bull, especially considering they have further upgrades scheduled for Korea next weekend.
This is how the table looks now:
1- Fernando Alonso (Ferrari): 194 Points
2- Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull): 190
3- Kimi Raikkonen (Lotus): 157
4- Lewis Hamilton (McLaren): 152
Doubtless, Vettel is now the favourite for the title. He now has the best machinery under him, he has back-to-back victories, and a team-mate that is now 56 points behind him, having been led by Webber in the early stages of the season. Whereas Alonso has potentially now only the 3rd best car at a push, and has had two non-finishes in four races. Raikkonen has been consistently racking up points over the course of the season, but no victories yet this season would see him less fancied for a title assault in the last five races than 4th placed Lewis Hamilton, despite having amassed five more points. However, 52 points is a massive amount to overhaul in just five races for Hamilton, who will be hoping to leave the McLaren team which he has spent half his life with in the best way possible, before his move to Mercedes for 2013.
So the title race is most definitely back on; and either way, it looks like there’s going to be another driver joining that elite club who have won three World Championships. So who will it be, Vettel? Aiming to become only the third back-to-back(-to-back) Champion in history, and do that at the age of just 25? Or will it be the more seasoned Alonso? Whom will be desperate to add to his tally of his 2005 and 2006 Championships with Renault, and no more than his team and the Tifosi crave as well. But the way that 2012 has gone so far, Romain Grosjean will probably end up winning the title for Lotus… If he can make it around the first corner!