SAO PAULO // The 2010 Formula One world championship remains wide open after yesterday’s Brazilian Grand Prix and the outcome will be settled next weekend in Abu Dhabi, with four drivers still in the hunt.
Fernando Alonso continues to lead the points standings, but Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber have closed the gap after recording Red Bull-Renault’s third one-two of the season. Lewis Hamilton remains in contention, too, but only just. The result has settled one key issue, though: in only their sixth season as an F1 team, Red Bull have clinched the world championship for constructors.
All the title contenders had to clear surprise pole winner Nico Hulkenberg (Williams-Cosworth) – and both Red Bulls were ahead within the first four corners.
“Nico made a good start,” said Vettel, “but mine was better and I went down the inside. He didn’t leave much room, but there was just enough.
“I was praying there wouldn’t be any debris on that part of the track, because I wasn’t on the conventional racing line.”
Webber followed suit when Hulkenberg braked slightly late for Turn Four and the Red Bulls were never threatened again. Alonso briefly passed Hamilton to take fourth at the end of the opening lap, but the McLaren-Mercedes driver reclaimed the spot by sticking to the inside line at Turn One.
Alonso nailed him three corners later, but was unable to dislodge Hulkenberg until lap seven, by which stage the Red Bull drivers were out of reach.
Both made smooth tyre stops and their rhythm would not be interrupted until lap 51, when Vitantonio Liuzzi, the Force India driver, crashed exiting Turn Two.
The safety car was deployed until the end of lap 55, but Alonso was unable to launch an immediate attack because of lapped traffic. There were two cars between Vettel and Webber – and another seven between the Australian and Alonso. “I had been using a conservative engine setting,” the Spaniard said, “but I turned it up at the end to see whether there was any chance of catching Mark.
“By the time I had cleared the other cars, though, he was five seconds ahead.”
He closed in with a string of searing laps, but the Australian was able to control the gap.
He went on to cross the line 4.2 seconds behind his teammate, with Alonso easing off right at the end to take a safe third.
Hamilton took a tactical gamble when the safety car came out, making another pit stop for a second set of fresh tyres, but it made little difference and he finished a distant fourth, his title hopes intact but in need of major assistance.
Jenson Button, the outgoing champion, recovered well from 11th to finish within a second of Hamilton, but his hopes of a second consecutive F1 crown are over. Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher, the Mercedes GP drivers, took sixth and seventh, while Hulkenberg finished eighth after his fleeting moment of glory.
“Seb drove really well,” said Webber, “but today’s result is all about the team. I’m really pleased for the guys and girls that we’ve won the championship for constructors. To beat Ferrari and McLaren fair and square is quite something.”
Webber would be going to the final race one point behind Alonso, rather than eight, if Red Bull had instructed Vettel to ease up yesterday, but that’s not the team’s philosophy.
It might be in Abu Dhabi, however, if yesterday’s top three are running in the same order as the race reaches its conclusion.
Vettel dropped a strong hint that he would step aside to help Webber if his own title chances are beyond salvation.
“I think the situation is fairly clear,” he said. “But let’s see what happens next weekend.”
No matter where they finish, second place will be enough to give Alonso a third F1 title.