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GP Week : Issue 171
18 GPWEEK.com // 18 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Fernando Alonso will win the 2012 World Championship. That’s a lot easier to write now than it was back in February, when any number of negative factors (from Ferrari’s viewpoint) seemed to be gathering pace. Then, the F2012 looked to be slow; at least five other teams seemed to be right on the pace; and very few people out there seemed to have faith in Fernando’s Number Two, Felipe Massa. Now, it’s looking good: Fernando is only six points behind the championship leader, Sebastian Vettel, with four races to run. The McLaren drivers would seem to be out of it – likewise Red Bull’s Mark Webber, the two MGP rennfahren and Lotus-Renault’s Romain Grosjean. Only Grosjean’s team-mate, Kimi Raikkonen, who has yet to win in 2012, hovers vaguely in the background as a 100:1 outsider. Other wise it’s a straight fight: Alonso versus Vettel. Ferrari versus Red Bull (for the Drivers’ Championship). Lest you think I’m being just a tad optimistic re Ferrari, and that I shouldn’t under-estimate Seb Vettel’s recent hat-trick of wins, consider this: unlike Red Bull, Ferrari have yet to fit any sort of double-DRS system to the F2012. That’s for India (I believe). Consider, too, that Fernando and Felipe were able to finish third and fourth in Korea, easily beating the best from McLaren and Lotus Renault. Yes, the Red Bull RB8-Renault has more inherent downforce than the F2012 – and will continue to hold that advantage until year’s end; there’s no doubt about that. On the other hand, reliability is weighted slightly in favour of Ferrari: Renault are having another brilliant season but are at the limit of what they can afford to lose (in terms of engine failures of the type that hit Bruno Senna’s Williams in Singapore, or ongoing alternator issues). Ferrari, by contrast, have some margin with which to play (rear roll-bar mounting issues aside). Then there’s the team-mate factor. Felipe Massa is the perfect complement to Fernando: he’s good enough to finish a strong second at Suzuka, ahead of Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber-Ferrari) and Jenson Button (McLaren-Mercedes), but over a three-day weekend he won’t worry Fernando; Mark Webber, by contrast, is fast enough to beat Seb when things are right (as proved most recently by his pole in Korea) and is still as hungry as a dingo (in terms of his 2012 Championship standing). Simply put, Webber is quite capable of taking points from Seb Vettel in the remaining races – despite the best endeavours of the Red Bull management to contain the situation. Don’t get me wrong; it’s going to be mighty close. Seb will win another race or two before the year’s out. Fernando, though, can also win – possibly in India but more probably in Texas. My only reservation is the chink we saw in Japan, when, for the first time this year, Fernando threw away 10 or so points. As harsh as that may sound, Fernando should never forget Niki Lauda’s recipe for eking-out World Championships: in the closing races, when minimising the damage on bad days is just as important as maximising your points on the good ones, you surround your car with about a metre of air space in the first three laps. Lauda, in Fernando’s position in Japan, would have backed away from Kimi, dropped a few places ... and ultimately finished fourth. Fernando has matured massively as a racer in 2012 but in Japan his natural instinct took over and the result was a zero. He cannot afford to let that happen again. Japan wasn’t his fault – but nor did he score points. Giving his position (then) at the top of the championship table, that was a major error. The problem, of course, is that Fernando is this year responsible for probably the best overtake we’re going to see this side of Nigel Mansell at Silverstone. I refer, of course, to the re-start at Valencia, when Fernando passed the super-aggressive Romain Grosjean where all other racing drivers fear to tread. With that sort of manoeuvre on your CV you’ll of course find it difficult to walk away from the (far more placid) Kimi Raikkonen at Suzuka. As unnatural as it will be for Fernando, however, he must do it: you can win races at first corners but you can’t win championships. Ferrari’s pace relative to McLaren and Lotus-Renault should not be under- estimated – just as Red Bull’s recent hat-trick should not be over-played. It wasn’t long ago, remember, that McLaren won three races in a row (Hungary, Spa, Monza). If you’d offered Fernando a deal after Spa that featured Felipe thrashing both McLarens at Suzuka and both of them beating Lewis in Korea I think he would have bought it for a large bag of Swiss francs. As frustrated as Fernando would have been in the aero wake of the RB8s in Korea, de-briefs say that the F2012 was impressively quick there alongside the McLarens. Given, as I say, that Ferrari have at least one obvious aero development ahead of them, their recent updates must be seen to have been positive (despite the comments of the drivers). Their car didn’t suffer from the understeer that hit the McLarens over the soft-hard weekend in Japan; and, on the softs and super-softs used in Korea, compounds that McLaren should have loved, given their recent pace, the Ferraris were still clearly superior. Felipe’s consistent speed in Japan and Korea would also suggest that the Ferrari is now reasonably well-balanced – a conclusion that’s underlined by the F2012’s excellent tyre management in both races. Yes, the RB8 has all that and more but this is crunch time, not Melbourne: as good as Adrian Newey, Seb Vettel and RenaultSport obviously are, they’re still only leading by single digits. That’s a very different sort of motor race and it’s one that Ferrari and Fernando are well-equipped to win. For their part, McLaren must be wondering where the pace, and the reliability, have gone. Lewis was phenomenal before his gearbox failure in Singapore; since announcing his move to Mercedes, however, nothing has gone right. He was out-paced by Jenson in Suzuka, which was a shock – and in Korea he struggled to finish top-10 after the rear roll-bar mounting broke (as per that similar failure on Fernando’s car in qualifying at Monza). We’re unlikely to see any more ‘rogue’ wins of the Rosberg/Maldonado variety in 2012 but McLaren’s loss of pace is a solid reminder of how the ups can quickly become downs in this year of many similar fundamentals being constantly affected by grip-enhancing aero nuances. Just as Fernando’s third place in Korea is a reminder of Ferrari’s consistency under pressure. Scoff if you wish, but my money is still on the driver of (red) car Number Five. ANALYSIS PETER WINDSOR F1 Columnist OPINION MY MONEY'S ON RED FIVE ...