Countdown to a new champion?

Countdown to a new champion?

There are not many people who don't think that F1 will have a new champion this season but it's still far from certain whom that champion might be. There are only six more races to go in 2005 but that's enough time for things to change. Obviously...

There are not many people who don't think that F1 will have a new champion this season but it's still far from certain whom that champion might be. There are only six more races to go in 2005 but that's enough time for things to change. Obviously Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen are the main contenders but others can't be counted out.

Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso.
Photo by xpb.cc.

If we're talking mathematics, if Raikkonen is still in with a chance then so is Michael Schumacher as he's only six points behind the Finn. To stretch the maths even further, there's 60 points maximum to be won and if rivals fail to score in these next six races, everyone in the standings down to Nick Heidfeld in ninth could technically win the title.

However, that's taking it a little too far -- realistically we have to focus on the top three. Jarno Trulli and Juan Pablo Montoya's current points positions in the mid-thirties are really too far away from Alonso's 87 to take into consideration. So, for argument's sake, let's say there are three drivers in the running for the championship.

He may still be in with a chance but Schumacher has already said the title is out of his grasp this year. He's 32 points behind Alonso and the Ferrari doesn't have the competitiveness of Renault and McLaren, so it's not too much of a stretch of the imagination to see that Schumacher has a very difficult task.

Ferrari has improved a little but still lacks grip and can't yet outpace its rivals. At the Hungaroring Schumacher qualified fairly light to get a good grid spot and hopefully build up enough of a time advantage to remain in front after the pit stops. It was Ferrari's first pole position of the year but Michael just couldn't escape from Raikkonen.

Michael Schumacher.
Photo by xpb.cc.

The Finn stayed with him and eventually got the better of the pit stops to take the lead. After that the McLaren just shot away, leaving Schumacher to settle for second. Michael was quite pleased with the result but even Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn said he was surprised Michael was on pole.

It remains to be seen if the weekend was a one-off for the Scuderia or if it really has improved. "It's a shame that our pace over the longer distance is still not good enough to fight for the win right to the end," said Jean Todt. "From around halfway, Michael had to deal with the same problem -- a gradual loss of grip -- that he experienced in Hockenheim."

So, despite the Hungarian result, it's doubtful Ferrari can do enough in six races to take the fight to Renault and McLaren. That leaves Raikkonen and Alonso, who have been the main protagonists nearly the whole season. Raikkonen has had to work hard to keep the gap between them manageable, while Alonso has made the best of his opportunities.

Ron Dennis said McLaren would not sacrifice speed for reliability, while Renault has looked at it the other way round. So far it's working in Renault's favour. We all know how fast the McLaren is but also how unreliable it is. Without so many failures, and some bad luck, Raikkonen could be leading the championship by now.

Podium: champagne for Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by xpb.cc.

Kimi's put in some great drives from the midfield after engine penalties to get on the podium, but had he started from his original grid spot he probably would have won. He's been forced to retire while leading and for nearly every bit of bad luck Alonso has been there, ready to take advantage.

That's not to say it's all lucky for Renault. Alonso still has to get himself to the chequered flag and as Fernando said, it's hardly luck that Renault has worked so hard to produce a competitive, reliable car. Leaving Indianapolis aside, Raikkonen has been out of the points four times and Alonso twice.

Alonso failed to score in Canada, where it was his own mistake when he crashed out, and in Hungary a first corner incident knocked him down to the midfield. Three of Raikkonen's non-finishes were car failures and one the infamous tyre incident in Europe, a result of taking a chance that didn't pay off.

Each race Raikkonen has retired from, Alonso has won and the two Fernando did not score in, Kimi won. Raikkonen may have taken the victory in Hungary and Alonso not scored but it didn't make a huge difference to the overall status quo between them.

Kimi Raikkonen.
Photo by xpb.cc.

"It looks better now than after the last race," Raikkonen commented after Hungary. "But it is just unlucky that we always seem to throw away ten points and he (Alonso) gets it, then at the next race we get it back. We are just going backwards and forwards all the time…"

Some have said that Raikkonen is too aggressive in his treatment of his car, that he'd rather push it until it breaks than be a little cautious in favour of at least getting some points. But if Kimi wants to win this championship he's got to win races and time is ticking away, so he's got to be aggressive to do that.

If the situation was reversed, no doubt Alonso would be equally aggressive but Fernando cannot afford to take too many risks. He doesn't actually have to win any of the remaining races to take the title, he's just got to keep the points coming in at a reasonably high level.

"It was just one weekend without any points, that's all," the Spaniard said about Hungary. "We are still leading both championships and we have developments on the way. I am still really motivated, and the result doesn't give me extra pressure. I'm already thinking about Istanbul."

Fernando Alonso.
Photo by xpb.cc.

It looks as if Alonso has a less difficult task than Raikkonen, although Renault would no doubt say that winning a championship is never easy. Certainly Raikkonen has a big job on his hands -- he has a gap of 26 points to close first before he can think about actually moving ahead of Alonso. The question is, of course, can he do it in just six races?

I don't think anyone, unless they have some kind of grudge against either Alonso or Raikkonen, doubts the calibre of these two drivers. We know the McLaren is the faster car but the Renault is more reliable, so predicting the outcome of this battle is really too difficult. Let's just hope it's a clean fight and may the best man win.

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , McLaren