It is more a question of when, rather than if, Sebastian Vettel will win a fourth straight Formula One championship.
Before the midseason break a few weeks ago, there was talk the Red Bull driver could be still be caught by Ferrari rival Fernando Alonso and a resurgent Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes.
Two races and two wins later, Vettel is so far ahead of both that the guessing game now is at which of the seven remaining races will he wrap up the title.
”I don’t go for predictions. I go for facts, and fact is that mathematically a number of scenarios are still possible,” Vettel said.
Vettel’s impressive win Sunday at the Italian Grand Prix, where he overcame a difficult start and late gearbox trouble, moved him 53 points ahead of Alonso and 81 clear of Hamilton.
Only a monumental collapse by Vettel will give either a chance of catching him. Given that the German has won three of the past four races, that seems unlikely.
Alonso seemed to be clinging to fading hope, saying ”in a way, it was exactly the same last year.”
But Red Bull is more reliable than Ferrari was last season, and much faster. Also, Vettel has reached the podium in six of the past seven races — and failed to score points in only five of the past 51.
The race in Singapore in two weeks is more likely to have a bearing on who finishes the championship in second and third.
Alonso is 28 points ahead of Hamilton, who has failed to recapture the form with which he won the Hungarian GP. Only 11 points separate Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen and Mark Webber in sixth.
Ferrari still has to decide its driver lineup for next season, however, with Felipe Massa under pressure to keep his seat. His aggressive driving on Sunday boosted his chances.
Hamilton also needs to bounce back from what he called ”a disaster of a weekend.”
It started with 12th place in qualifying — by far his worst of the season — and a slow puncture sustained in the first chicane, coupled with a failing race radio.
”I didn’t know what . . . was going on,” Hamilton said. ”You don’t know what’s happening in the race, I didn’t know when to stop, when to push, when not to push, when to switch my settings.”
Hamilton has settled in well in his first season since switching to Mercedes from McLaren, and he was magnanimous enough to apologize to his team after his poor qualifying session. Before Monza, he had secured four straight pole positions.
”I’ve now got to go away, reset, and try to recover at the next race,” Hamilton said. ”I basically need to win every race, which is the tallest order ever, but I can do nothing but try.”