A run-down on the five left in the battle for the championship, including their records at Interlagos and their form this season
2010 record: five wins, nine top-threes, 231 pts, two DNFs
Last five races: 1st (most recent), 3rd, 1st, 1st, DNF: 90pts
Brazilian GP record: Has finished on the podium five times and has been outside the top four twice when he had to retire. Has never won at Interlagos.
The former double world champion is very much the man to beat heading to Brazil, one of the five tracks on the calendar where he has never won. However, victories at high-speed Monza and twisty Singapore suggest that Ferrari has, arguably, the best all-round car at the moment. Despite Alonso’s win-at-any-cost mentality, he allies that to the other attributes a team looks for – leadership, raw talent and consistency. Alonso carries these in abundance and has exploded into life in the second half of the season. Not only does he have the speed, with four fastest laps this season, but he handles the pressure better than any of his rivals. He has won races that he should not have, like Singapore, which is the sign of a champion. The 29-year-old looks strong to give the Scuderia its 16th drivers’ title, although probably in Abu Dhabi rather than Brazil.
2010 record: four wins, nine top-threes, 220 pts, two DNFs
Last five races: DNF, 2, 3, 6, 2: 59pts
Brazilian GP record: Aside from his emphatic victory last year, Webber has finished no higher than ninth in his eight previous visits.
Webber arrives in São Paulo off the back of a disappointing exit in South Korea, where he lost the car in wet conditions and took out Nico Rosberg. Webber rarely gets involved in incidents and instead subscribes to the mantra of hard but fair racing. Nevertheless, on the basis of past form, Webber is the weakest of the contenders in tricky conditions and with unpredictable weather a distinct possibility at Interlagos, the Aussie may be under further pressure. The 34-year-old can afford no more mistakes. It is his time to shine, perhaps his best chance to take a richly deserved title that would put an Australian back at the top of the sport for the first time in 30 years. The Buckinghamshire-based driver has proved himself over the past two years and, with four dominant wins under his belt this season, he needs a repeat of last year’s race to take the title on to Abu Dhabi.
2010 record: three wins, eight top-threes, 210 pts, four DNFs
Last five: 2, 5, DNF, DNF, 1: 53pts
Brazilian GP record: A mixed bag certainly, Hamilton has narrowly won and lost a championship here, finishing seventh in 2007 and fifth a year later. His best result – third – came in a year he was not in contention.
Hamilton has had an up-and-down season and, as he goes to a track where his fortune is equally mixed, it is hard to say whether this is where his championship challenge ends or he remains in contention. The 2008 champion, with a title famously clinched at Junção, the last corner, is arguably the best overtaker on the grid, perhaps because he takes the most risks. His daring is fantastic to watch but with double the number of retirements (four) of his rivals, there has been one too many at the most crucial point of the championship. Still only 25, he lacks the experience of some of his rivals, which can often be decisive at this stage of the season.
What the Briton lacks in experience, he makes up for in ability. His drive in Australia was particularly inspired, overtaking cars all over the track, including the turn 11 and 12 high-speed chicane, only to be thwarted by a questionable strategy and Webber’s over-zealousness. Hamilton’s fundamental flaw, however, may not be his own, with McLaren seemingly struggling to keep pace with Red Bull and Ferrari. The MP4-25 lacks overall downforce and Hamilton may well be doing a rain dance in São Paulo to keep his hopes afloat.
2010 record: three wins, eight top-threes, 206 pts, two DNFs
Last five: DNF, 1, 2, 4, 15: 55pts
Brazilian GP record: Has finished fourth in the last two years and failed to finish in 2007.
The young German should be leading the championship right now. However, a cocktail of mechanical unreliability and impetuousness means his chances are diluted. Vettel’s story is that of 2009 all over again – astounding ability but bitter disappointment. Unfortunately the 23-year-old does not seem to have matured at all. His incidents with Webber in Turkey and Button in Belgium are low points he cannot afford to repeat in the final races. He has not shown a tremendous amount of race-craft and lacks the overtaking ability to carve his way through a grid.
In fairness Vettel has also been let down by his car far too often. Bahrain, Australia and Korea were nailed-on wins that would have unquestionably changed the complexion of the title fight. Red Bull and Renault must address this if they want to achieve Ferrari-style domination which, with Adrian Newey at the helm, is entirely possible. Vettel is a champion in waiting. Nine pole positions and demonstrations of the Red Bull’s speed reinforce that belief but it will surely be at least another year before his name is etched on the coveted trophy.
2010 record: two wins, six top-threes, 189 pts, two DNFs
Last five: 12, 4, 4, 2, DNF: 42pts
Brazilian GP record: Although he has competed at Interlagos more than any of his rivals, Button’s record does not inspire confidence. Aside from clinching the title here last season, the 30-year-old has stood on the podium (third) once in 10 visits.
Button’s chances of successfully defending his crown are now purely arithmetical. Despite a fantastic start to the season, winning two of the first four, with unparalleled tyre choices in Australia and China, the world champion has not won a dry race since Turkey last year. He has come close on several occasions, namely in Italy behind Alonso with an unconventional higher downforce set-up, but has struggled on several counts. He knows as well as anyone that to win a world championship consistency is key. Six wins out of the first seven in 2009 put him firmly in control but this year he has encountered several more hurdles.
More often than not Button’s car has not hit the spot in terms of the perfect balance he needs and he has not been able to show the tremendous pace that made him world champion. Neither has he been as aggressive as last year. He started better than Hamilton in Singapore but surrendered the place almost immediately, surprising in light of the sublime moves he made in Brazil last year particularly. McLaren’s hope now rests with Hamilton and, despite the team’s pledge of support for the No1 man, he may be forced to play the bridesmaid role if McLaren have any chance of the title.