Red Bull driver’s deserved second world title would curtail an exceptional championship with five grands prix to go
Sebastian Vettel will come to the floodlit Marina Bay street circuit on Sunday hoping for a coronation. But if he wins his second title in two years, to become the youngest of double champions at 24, the panoply and fanfares will be strangely muted.
The Formula One season would face five more races, blanketed in anticlimax, a silencer fitted to its raspy raucousness. There are still more than two months to go before the curtain comes down in Brazil on 27 November.
This would be one of sport’s most premature of celebrations. There were six races remaining when Michael Schumacher won in 2002, his fifth title equalling the record of Juan-Manuel Fangio. There were five races to go when Nigel Mansell won in 1992. But not even the most anhedonic of race fan is objecting to all of this.
Vettel’s brilliance may have robbed his sport of a fitting acme; his triumph, when it comes, will have a sort of death-and-taxes inevitability about it. However, this downbeat denouement cannot disguise the fact that this has been an exceptional season.
Ross Brawn, the technical director of the championship-winning Benetton and Ferrari teams and one of the wisest of paddock people, thinks it has been a memorable year. Brawn, who now leads Mercedes, says: “It’s been a fantastic season. OK, it would have been nice to see the championship battle go down to the wire, but in the absence of that all the racing that’s been going on, both at the front and through the field, has been first-class.
“That viewing figures are up in a lot of countries confirms the point that it has been a compelling season and demonstrates the sport’s appeal. We haven’t had any processional races.”
Down at the other end of the paddock, Virgin’s team principal, John Booth, is equally enthusiastic. “It’s been the most exciting season I can remember,” he says. “That Vettel is going to win it easily doesn’t detract from an exciting year.
“There’s been lots more overtaking. There have been two factors here. The Pirelli tyres have made a big difference, requiring more thought and strategy, which has led to more swapping of positions, and we have had some water on the circuits too, which always helps.”
The racing was also exceptional last season but because of some unforced errors from Red Bull and some poor judgments from a less experienced Vettel, the race for the title went to the last race.
Booth adds: “There has been a genuine effort from the technical committee over the past two seasons to increase overtaking. We looked at lots of ways and came up with the new Pirelli tyres and DRS which has also been fantastic.
“There’s been more position changes through tyre strategy than through DRS, not just pure overtaking but the careful planning of pit stops, that sort of thing.”
F1 has become more entertaining but, according to Booth, there will always be the chance of a runaway winner, like Vettel. He is far from guaranteed to win the title on Sunday but a podium finish means he could be crowned. If Vettel wins and Fernando Alonso finishes lower than fourth while Jenson Button and Mark Webber are lower than third, then the title will belong to the German.
“They will never make F1 more equal until they put everyone in the same car,” Booth says. “There is so much brainpower out there, and different budgets, there will always be someone who comes up with a different idea, a better idea. But that doesn’t detract from the racing.”
Booth feels that Vettel is a worthy champion. “Absolutely. More so this year than last year. The second half of this year the other cars have been closer to him but he has still won races. And he has stretched away from his team-mate this year too. He and Webber were much closer last year.
“I think Sebastian has got that bit extra this time. I don’t think I’ve seen a mistake from him this season. It’s too early to call him a great driver, like Michael Schumacher, say, who dominated in two different cars, although there was the same technical team.”
Brawn points to the previous race, the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, as an example of the spectacle we have had this year. “Schumacher’s battle with Lewis Hamilton divided opinion but it was great entertainment, great racing. Seeing two guys right on the edge like that was a treat and we’ve had lots of races like that.
“We can’t be complacent. We will look at DRS in the winter. If it’s not achieving its objectives we can tone it down. We’ve got to look how we can improve things further but the sport’s in very good health. It’s just up to us and McLaren and Ferrari to give the Red Bulls a harder time next year.”
Some people, though, are never satisfied. The former world champion Jacques Villeneuve said this week: “Races are a borefest. I’m not a fan of the new rules, artificial rear wings and all that sort of stuff. It makes me yawn and fall asleep. I don’t see any great driving any more.”