The Title Decider: One Scenario

November 10, 2010

With the season building to a captivating close, the standings in the Drivers’ Championship create the possibility for some intriguing scenarios at Abu Dhabi this weekend. Here’s one which raises some interesting questions.

Imagine this: on Saturday, qualifying  is business as usual, with Vettel leading Webber in a Red Bull front-row lockout. In third sits Hamilton, fourth Alonso, fifth Massa, with Button sixth. Hardly a fantasy grid, as that was the qualifying order in Valencia, save for Kubica pipping Button to sixth.

Everyone gets a good start, and for the first stint the front-runners lap in the same order as they qualified. At this stage, the championship is provisionally Alonso’s, but realistically Webber’s: a fourth place from Alonso would rule Vettel out of the championship, so the German would likely let his teammate through to take the title in the closing laps. Again, nothing unbelievable about this scenario.

After a long first stint, with the fresh tarmac at the Yas Marina circuit proving kind on tyres, the front-runners pit. Except Alonso, like his teammate in Brazil, has a problem during his pitstop. The issue drops him to almost the back of the field.

This is where things get interesting. With Alonso out of the points, a Vettel win is enough for him to take the championship. The German would be  equal on points with Webber, and would take the  title on countback. Suddenly, Sebastian is in the pound seats.

This leaves Webber in second, needing to pass Vettel for the title, with nothing to lose by crashing out. It would be a nightmare scenario for Red Bull. With no love lost for either his team or his teammate, there would be nothing to stop Webber having a go.

This leaves two drivers with a dubious track record for overtaking battling for the lead with nothing to lose. If Webber is close enough to Vettel on pace, or a late safety car bunches up the pack, it makes it almost inevitable that the Australian would lunge for the lead.

Now imagine a repeat of the incident in Turkey. Webber gets his nose up the inside coming into Turn 1, and is briefly leading the championship.  But the two Red Bulls come together, and are both taken out of the race. It’s happened once this year, and could happen again.

Now Hamilton leads – again, not unlikely given his dominant qualifying pace in the 2009 race – and, with Alonso still struggling past midfielders, that gives him the Brit the provisional championship lead. Massa holds a strong top-ten position – where, exactly, isn’t important – as the race enters its final lap, with Alonso a distant 11th.

Hamilton crosses the finishing line, both he and the team celebrating his second championship victory. But the Formula 1 world’s collective jaw drops as, rounding the final corner, Massa pulls into the pits and parks his Ferrari. Under orders from his team, the Brazilian removes himself from the running, gifting the final point to Alonso, who now crosses the line 10th. The Spaniard draws equal to Hamilton on points, and takes the championship by virtue of having won more races.

An unlikely scenario, admittedly, but not an impossible one. Certainly, it’d raise a lot of questions: was Red Bull’s refusal to favour Webber naive? Do the points Alonso gained at Hockenheim after being allowed past Massa deny his third title credibility? Has the new points system worked?

If anything, the scenario shows just how much potential Sunday’s race has to be one of the most memorable – and indeed, controversial – season deciders of all time. Bring it on.

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