So – is there anyone out there this morning not playing a game of ‘what ifs’? What if Lewis Hamilton had not broken down in Singapore and in Abu Dhabi? What if Lewis did not have to start from the back of the grid in Spain? What if there had not had been all those pit-stop cock-ups, the tyre strategy miscalls, the blind alley set-up development that sunk Jenson Button’s mid-season? All of these, and more, and we would be looking at a three-way shoot out for the title in Brazil next week.
Driving as he did yesterday, Lewis Hamilton left nobody in any doubt that although the title will be decided between Sebastian Vettel (a close second yesterday) and Fernando Alonso (a distant third), Lewis Hamilton remains one of the very greatest drivers ever to have sat in an F1 car.
A great drive then, on what looks like one of the great racetracks, the ‘best-of-compilation album’ of corners that is the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Its designer, the much-maligned Herman Tilke, has cited Spa and Silverstone and Hockenheim as influences, but all we could think of as they raced up the hill to Turn One and swept back down from it into Two was Brands Hatch. Only much, much wider. Wide enough, it seemed, to get just about the entire field through at the start and, remarkably, for there to be no accident.
Plenty of overtaking followed, most notably 15 laps from the end when Lewis finally got by Vettel at the peak of his second assault, once both drivers’ hard tyres had warmed up, and with both drivers going as hard as they could. All you American fans, if that was your first Grand Prix, then rest assured that was as good a race as we’ve had this season – the last thing you needed was another Red Bull demo run.
(Although, regardless of the euphoria, it should be pointed out that a quick trawl of the big US network sites this morning by the Sunday Afternoon Club didn’t find a lot of ink).
Still. We liked it. It started controversially with Ferrari asking Felipe Massa to take one for the team, ceremoniously breaking the FIA seal on his otherwise unchanged gearbox, demoting him to 11th and putting Alonso in sixth, and more importantly on the clean side of the track. As you might imagine, Alonso made it count. His lonely third was largely achieved by a great start.
But were Ferrari right to do so? Inside the rules? Absolutely. Within the spirit of the rules? Meh. But we applaud it. It is a team sport. It is sport not just for engineering superbrains and driving superheroes, but for cunning and nous. It was a clever thing to do. Just like Red Bull starting Vettel from the pits in Abu Dhabi in that RB8 sprint car. Particularly in a season where the margin has been narrower than ever, you have to grab every fraction. That’s what Ferrari did. We at the Sunday Afternoon Club think it was kind of cool. You lot?
Ultimately though, will Alonso make it count next weekend? He believes he can. But then again, he would. The F2012 is part-powered by Alonso’s faith this year. He needs to win in Brazil, realistically, with Vettel off the podium. Can he do it? Well here are a couple of factors to take into account when you place your bet. Number one it will most likely rain in San Paulo. And when it rains there, it rains.
Number two, rather more worryingly for Red Bull, was Mark Webber’s retirement yesterday with alternator failure. Since Renault lost Vettel and Grosjean to the problem in Valencia, it’s been running last year’s alternators to be safe. The supply of those ran out in Abu Dhabi. It was one of the new — Valencia spec — units that failed on Webber’s car. Both he and Vettel will be running them in Brazil.
Ladies and gents, it may be a two horse race. But it is far from over…