Image Courtesy: Red Bull
At this time last year, Vettel and Red Bull had already secured their respective world championships. However, this year the scene is a little different despite the fact that Vettel and Red Bull still lead the drivers and constructors championship respectively. First of all, Red Bull had the fastest car throughout the season and Vettel made most of it with 11 victories 16 pole positions. However, this year it was McLaren who had the fastest car, but unlike Red Bull they failed to exploit this advantage.
To tell you how 2012 has turned into a two horse race between Alonso and Vettel, we'll divide 2012 season into two parts - in the first part we cover the races until Hungary i.e. before summer break, and in the second part we cover races after Hungary i.e. after summer break.
First half: Alonso rises to top as others fail to deliver
Button started the season with a amazing win at the first race of the season in Australia however his results degraded since then and he had a poor stint of 6 races between Bahrain and Britain where he only managed to score 6 points. However, that's wasn't the only reason he was almost out of the C'ship in the first half of the season. McLaren's poor run of pit stops took away many points and even victories from the British driver. The pit stops also affected Hamilton's chances, however, unlike his teammate, he still had a decent chance of winning the title at time of Summer break.
Teams like Mercedes and Lotus were expected to challenge for top spot of the podium, however that expectation was left as an expectation. Mercedes were extremely strong in qualifying throughout the fast half of season thanks to their DRS system(Note: DRS can be used anywhere in qualifying but only a specific straight/straights during race) however they struggled due to lack of pace and tyre wear on Sundays. However, they had a race winning car in two races - China where Rosberg won from pole and Monaco where Schumacher got pole however suffered due to grid penalty and technical problems.
While Lotus never had the pace to win races, they were right behind McLaren and Red Bull. Kimi Raikkonen scored points in each and every race including 6 podium finishes. Grosejan's comeback also proved successful with 2 podiums but his accidents and retirements din't help the French driver to compete for the championship.
After dominating the 2011 season, Red Bull didn't look as strong this year. Vettel who won 11 races last year managed to win only one. The number could have been two without the alternator issue he had at Valencia where he retired from 1st place. Mark Webber who played a side role in 2011, not only managed to match his teammate but also beat him in drivers standings. He managed to win 2 races and finished in 4th place five times.
In this process, Alonso in a non-race winning car made the most of chances thrown to him to lead the standings by 40 points. He won 3 races and stood on podium at 3 more occasions. He also benefited from the fact that he had no one main competitor, 7 drivers from 5 different team won races in first half of season.
Second half - Red Bull's turn
McLaren looked strong again in 2nd half of the season with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton winning the Belgian GP and Italian Grand Prix respectively. Vettel finished 2nd at Belgium while Alonso retired at Belgium and finished in 3rd place at Italy.
But Vettel then turned it around with 3 successive and dominant victories at Singapore, Japan and Korea. Vettel won 75 points in the process and took the championship lead by 6 points over Fernando Alonso. Alonso, who previously led the championship scored only 30 points during the same interval.
The second half of the season has turned 2012 into a two-horse race. Raikkonen continued to perform consistenlty and is the only driver to score points in each and every race this season. But this consistently isn't enough as the Finnish driver has failed to win a race this season. The difference between 1st and 2nd place is 7 points and that makes a big difference in a long run. He is now 38 points behind Vettel in the standings and with 4 races to go, he doesn't have realistic chance of winning his second title.
Meanwhile, Hamilton retired from the Belgian GP on the very first lap after a collision with Romain Grosejan. He also retired due to a gearbox failure while leading the Singapore Grand Prix. Though he did win the Italian Grand Prix, his mechancial troubles weren't over as he suffered from a rear anti-roll bar issue at Korea and could only finish in 10th place. He is now 52 points behind Vettel in standings, and he himself says he doesn't have a chance to win the title.
While Webber showed form in 1st half, he then had a poor run of 6 races where he managed to score only 18 points. He is now 53 points behind Vettel and realistically out of the championship.
Drivers Standings after the Korean Grand Prix
1) Sebastian Vettel - 215
2) Fernando Alonso - 209
3 Kimi Räikkönen - 167
4) Lewis Hamilton - 153
5) Mark Webber - 152
6) Jenson Button - 131
7) Nico Rosberg - 93
8) Romain Grosjean - 88
9) Felipe Massa - 81
10) Sergio Perez - 66
With 4 races to go, who do you think will win the drivers title? Alonso or Vettel?