On my way back from the airport on Sunday night my taxi driver was talking about Mosley this and Ecclestone that and I asked him if he was interested in other sports. He was. So then I asked him if he could name the regulatory and commercial bosses of any of those sports. He could not. These larger than life characters have actually taken over the limelight from the drivers this season, which is extraordinary but it looks like that is about to end and the focus for the final eight races will be on who is going to win the world championship.
There are four contenders, if you include Rubens Barrichello, but he seems to think that the Brawn team doesn’t want him to win the championship. In all probability, either Jenson Button, Mark Webber or Sebastian Vettel will be world champion. Any of the them would make a great ambassador for the sport; they are all engaging, articulate positive people. Two of them are in the autumn of their careers (well maybe late Summer) and are finding success late on, like Nigel Mansell and Mika Hakkinen. The other is following in Lewis Hamilton’s footsteps and getting it done right from the start of his career.
Mark Webber’s win on Sunday was quite Mansell-esque. He was charging hard, particularly after the drive through penalty, which handed the initiative to Rubens Barrichello. I reviewed the live twitter feed I do during the race and there were several points when the pendulum swung Rubens’ way, like the start and following the drive through, and then swung Mark’s way, like when Rubens was being held up by Massa in the second stint and when the fuel rig failed. It was a terrific race and despite appearances, it was not an easy win for Webber.
David Coulthard in the Telegraph described it as the best dry weather performance of the season. It was in his Red Bull branded driver column, so a notch down from fully impartial, but nevertheless a valid observation.
Webber is on cloud nine now and I wonder whether he will get that kick of confidence from the win, as Mansell did in 1985 when he finally got the first win after seven years of trying.
“I’ve crossed the unchartered waters of pole position and victory, so that can only help, it can’t be a hindrance, ” said Webber. “To lead and not be the chaser was a first for me. I hope that the momentum can continue. Getting this win means that when it’s close the races might seem more straightforward for me.”
This last line I find very interesting. It’s like Webber feels he has unlocked some secret by crossing the line first on Sunday. The picture is clearer, it will make things mentally more straightforward for him in other situations, the clouds of doubt and uncertainty have cleared.
Button sounds worried and I’m slightly surprised to hear him say the things he was saying after the race because they give too much away. Asked if he was worried he said,
“Wouldn’t you be? I’ve had a sixth and a fifth the last two races. I expected more here but it was just the race didn’t go our way. I expected to be on the podium, I didn’t expect to beat the Red Bulls so yeah you have to worry, but I don’t think it’s ‘Oh sh*t we’re going to lose the championship’. It’s ‘Come on let’s make the difference’. We’ve got some new parts for Hungary and I’m looking forward to that. I think our car will be strong there. We don’t know how strong. We’ll have to wait and see.
“These are the two circuits that have been frustrating for us because of the temperatures. If we’re not quick on a hot track then we’ve got to really worry.”
You’ve got to admire his honesty, but Red Bull will sense weakness. Brawn has an upgrade due for Budapest and should go well there and in Valencia, but I see no reason why they should move ahead of Red Bull unless it is a massive upgrade, like the one Red Bull brought in Silverstone. Red Bull have a very aggressive development plan themselves. It will be a fight and it will be critical to get qualifying and the race right to come out in front.
Button has also had luck on his side so far, with no retirements. He will do well to keep that going to the end of the season. On the other side he does have a 21 point cushion.
Another complicating factor is the increase in performance of the Ferrari and McLaren. McLaren can qualify behind the Brawn and Red Bulls and then mess up their race by getting ahead at the start using KERS , while the Ferrari is a poor qualifying car but it can gain places with KERS, as Massa showed on Sunday. He cost Vettel any chance of a win. Button’s race was wrecked by falling behind Kovalainen in the opening stint.
Vettel has been quite quiet since Sunday. He made his usual thoughtful analysis after the race and admitted that Webber had been ‘unbeatable’ all weekend. But it will have been quite a sobering afternoon for him. Vettel had the upper hand in that team earlier in the season, but now Webber has come back at him strongly.
The team is giving them both an equal chance, which some people have criticised. They feel that Vettel is the faster of the two and letting Webber win on Sunday will give him a surge of confidence which might knock Vettel back. But that is racing. Vettel has already shown he’s got a tough mentality and if he loses out to Webber now then he will only come back stronger next year. He has made three mistakes in races on days when Button won, he’s a young charger who’s right on the edge, so that’s why Red Bull have hedged their bets and continue to do so.
Button, Webber, Vettel – which one will it be?