Sebastian Vettel’s win at Suzuka hasn’t exactly brought the championship to life, because it is still very much Jenson Button’s to lose, but it has brought it to within a range which is achievable.
Kimi Raikkonen turned around a 17 point deficit in 2007 and Vettel now trails by 16. With memories of 2007 still so fresh, a psychological barrier has been crossed. Neither of the remaining races will be straightforward. Lewis Hamilton has two years’ experience of how unpredictable the race in Brazil can be and then we have the great unknown in Abu Dhabi, which looks like a KERS track with only one fast corner.
Vettel needs to win both races, with Button scoring less than four points, which looks unlikely but then it looked unlikely in 2007 as well.
There is no doubt that the 3 extra points for second place, which Vettel missed out on in Singapore, would be handy now as would the 6 points for third place he potentially dropped by taking on Robert Kubica in Melbourne when trying to defend second place in the closing stages.
Vettels’ big problem this season has been his five non-finishes. In the races he has finished he’s averaged 6.9 points. Of the races Button has finished, which is all but one of them, he’s averaging just 6 points.
Anyway the situation is what it is and looking at the championship, this is the picture since Silverstone, which was the turning point of this championship:
Raikkonen & Barrichello 36 pts
Rosberg 23 pts.
Prior to Silverstone Vettel had scored 29 points at an average of 3.1pts per race. SInce Silverstone Button has scored 24 at an average of 3pts per race. If he keeps that up he will crawl across the line as champion in Abu Dhabi with a point to spare.
Silverstone was the turning point, the moment when Red Bull fitted its definitive update package with the double diffuser. It had an interim diffuser for Monaco and Turkey, but Silverstone was the turning point for Red Bull.
It looks like they have made a similar step recently with the update pack they put on the car in Singpore.
It looks very fast now; in Suzuka the Red Bull’s fastest race lap was 7/10ths of a second faster than the Brawn and half a second faster than the Toyota or McLaren.
They promise more, with a new front wing in both Brazil and Abu Dhabi.
However it is not all about the Brawn’s lack of pace, as Barrichello has scored 36 points since Silverstone. At the beginning of the season he had a problem with the brakes on his car and the solution he found early on meant he wasn’t able to run the rear wheel covers on his car on some occasions, which made it slower.
Since he has found a fix for his braking issues, he has set the pace, outqualifying Button in six of the eight races from Silverstone onwards and finishing ahead of him in four, with one retirement for Button.
From Button’s point of view the key thing to remember going into the next race is that, whatever happens in Brazil, Button will have at least a four point lead over Barrichello going into the last round and at least seven points lead over Vettel.
Once again, Button’s saving grace may be the performance of the man he is set to replace as champion, Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren with its KERS system is expected to be fast in both Brazil and Abu Dhabi. Hamilton could well be the one who stops Vettel getting maximum points in the final races and as long as Button keeps Barrichello close by him, he should be able to clinch the championship.
Button wants to win this title in style, he doesn’t want to limp across the line.
“We are doing the best job we can in a difficult situation,” he says. “I got a five place penalty yesterday. We are getting ourselves into these tricky situations and we are getting ourselves out of them. Hopefully in Brazil we won’t have to fight back from a bad grid slot, we can start at the front and finish at the front.”
Barrichello will be inspired in Brazil, you can be sure of that.