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It isn't over yet - the remaining battles of 2013
Friday 25th October 2013, 22:28 by Daniel Chalmers
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Red Bull may have already effectively got both hands on the Drivers' and Constructors' trophies, but there is still plenty to play for in F1
Just like in a football league there are scores to be settled up and down the table, which will provide drama in the last four races of the season.
It might not be as glamorous as winning the constructor’s championship but Mercedes, Ferrari and Lotus would all rather finish runner-up than in fourth place.
Firstly it makes a huge difference financially in terms of how much prize money is awarded. For Mercedes and Lotus finishing the season runner-up would also mark a huge step forward. Last year Lotus finished fourth, whilst Mercedes were fifth. Furthermore Ferrari certainly won’t want to finish down in fourth. This would be their worse position since 2009.
Ferrari’s pace has been on the slide for a while now, and they have now abandoned 2013 to concentrate on 2014. Pace wise are they are now behind Mercedes and Lotus. It seems that the team’s best hope for a podium is one of Fernando’s dynamite starts. Even those have disappeared in the last couple of races.
The on form team at the moment are Lotus. They appear to have found something over the last couple of events, and have emerged as Red Bull’s most credible challengers. Cynics say that Renault has a lot to do with the fact Red Bull and Lotus are F1’s top two teams at the moment.
If Lotus can keep their form up second place is possible. However they are 33 points behind Ferrari. Therefore they need to stay consistent. One race where Lotus suffers a nightmare and Ferrari score a strong double points finish, and their quest will prove tough.
Mercedes shouldn’t be ruled out though. They are only 10 points behind Ferrari after all. It hasn’t been a great few races but that has been more down to bad luck and mistakes, rather than lack of pace. They got the strategy wrong in Singapore and Korea. In Japan Lewis Hamilton got a puncture at the start, whilst Nico Rosberg got a drive-thru penalty for an un-safe release.
They still a have car capable of qualifying and racing in the top four. On a clean weekend they are capable of winning big points with both cars, even a win if Red Bull isn’t quite on it. Four clean weekends and second place in the constructor’s is theirs for the taking.
On paper it ought to be Mercedes that nick it, but it could be tight. They have to stop making operational errors to take it. There’s a strong chance this one will go down to the wire in Brazil.
Fernando Alonso is currently second in the driver’s championship with a 30 point margin over Kimi Raikkonen, and a 46 point lead over Hamilton.
Ferrari doesn’t have a great car at the moment but Alonso is still capable of dragging it to a points position. This was demonstrated by fourth place in Japan. Four more solid points finishes like that, and he will have a decent chance of retaining second.
Although Raikkonen currently has a stronger car than Alonso, he is not on the best of form at the moment. Since the tyre construction has changed Kimi has really struggled to put a strong lap together in qualifying. This has affected his chances of getting consistently strong race results.
There have also been question marks over his motivation since announcing his Ferrari deal. Out of the drivers gunning for second place you sense he will be the least bothered about it. Another podium or two is likely for Kimi, but he would probably need four to overtake Fernando.
Romain Grosjean is in a purple patch at the moment. He has emerged as the most consistent of the non Red Bull drivers in the last two or three races.
Due to an inconsistent start to 2013 he isn’t mathematically in the fight to beat Fernando. However If he can keep his form up he could help Alonso hold on to second, by stopping his nearest rivals getting on the third step of the podium, behind the rampant Red Bulls.
Hamilton has the pace to challenge Alonso but he would need four clean/on form weekends to have a chance. Looking back at the season his form has been a bit erratic at times. When he is happy he is on fire. When he isn’t he seems to lose a bit of his edge. Furthermore bad luck has never been far away, Suzuka being a case in point. He could potentially overtake Raikkonen for third though.
Mark Webber and Rosberg could still leap ahead of Alonso but realistically they have too many points to make up.
Ultimately Alonso’s rivals need him to have a DNF at some point in the last four races to have a realistic shot at second position. His notorious consistency should just help him across the line.
McLaren, Sauber, Force India and Toro Rosso are all fighting for fifth in the championship. Just like the battle for runner-up spot, it makes a huge difference to the prize money on offer. For the midfield teams it is even more important than it is for the big teams.
Outside of the top teams nearly every team is struggling financially at the moment. The huge regulation changes coming for next season are very expensive, and are therefore adding more strain. The extra money for a higher placing could prove critical.
Force India were the in form team in the first half of the season. It looked like they could even challenge McLaren for fifth. However since the construction of tyre changed in Hungary, they have struggled to even get into the points.
For Sauber on the other hand it has been the opposite story. They struggled on the 2013 construction, but have thrived on the 2012 construction. Plus the team have done the best job out of all the midfield teams of developing their car. Nico Hulkenberg is also in the form of his life, and beating drivers he shouldn’t be beating.
Here are the average number of points these teams have scored in the last four races:
If that trend carries on into the last four races then McLaren will do enough to keep fifth in the championship. However Sauber will easily leapfrog Force India into sixth place, and get close to McLaren
Unless Sauber completely lose their newfound form it’s hard to see that not happening. It’s very hard to see how Force India is going to suddenly turn their form around. The only thing that might save them is a wet race where they get a lucky result. Although if Toro Rosso doesn’t get a big bite of the points in the final races, the Silverstone based team should stay above them at least.
Williams, Marussia and Caterham are potentially involved in the most important battle in F1 at the moment. That is the battle not to finish in 11th. All the teams down to tenth in the championship receive a portion of the prize money. However the 11th team doesn’t.
Williams currently win that battle due to Pastor Maldonado scoring a world championship point in Hungary. Marussia are above Caterham thanks to Jules Bianchi’s 13th place finish in Malaysia.
In normal circumstances it’s hard to see that order changing. In a normal dry race a very high rate of attrition would be required for any of these three teams to score points at the moment. Reliability is bullet proof in F1 these days so it’s hard to see that happening. 10-15 years ago it would have been a distinct possibility, when reliability gremlins were commonplace.
If there is a wet race or two it could be a different story. It’s very possible that Caterham or Marussia could luck into a points finish that way. Unthinkably that could put them above Williams in the championship, which would be a disaster for the Grove team. It would take a very crazy wet race for that to happen though.
Chances are Williams are reasonably secure in ninth place. However it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Caterham could finish 12th or higher in a race, and claim that all important tenth place. At the last race last year in the wet in Brazil, Vitaly Petrov finished 11th to leapfrog Marussia in the standings. History could repeat itself.
If there is no late season rain tenth place will be Marussia’s to keep.
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