Webber leads but Alonso has momentum

What happened off the track at the Singapore Grand Prix last weekend may yet come to mean as much as what happened on it.

Red Bull’s Mark Webber finished a distant third at Marina Bay yet extended his lead in the Formula One drivers’ championship to 11 points over Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who won his second Singapore GP.

But Alonso’s charge into title contention took a hit when Formula One boss Bernie Ecclestone confirmed that there were serious doubts over whether the Korean Grand Prix scheduled for Oct. 24 will go ahead, with race organizers struggling to complete construction of the new circuit.

If the event is called off, only three races would remain in the season, giving Alonso and the other championship contenders — McLaren pair Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button and Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel — less time to catch Webber.

Hamilton, who had been Webber’s closest rival, tangled with the Australian just after the race’s midpoint and for the second straight event did not finish. He is now third, 20 points behind Webber. Vettel is another point back in fourth, and defending champion Button is fifth, 25 points behind Webber.

Alonso’s experience, he’s a two-time world champion, and momentum from a second straight victory give him the best shot at challenging Webber for the title.

The Ferrari driver led from start to finish in Singapore, though that disguised the difficulty of the win, as he was chased throughout by Vettel, with the final margin of victory being under three-tenths of a second.

Yet as close as it was, Alonso’s win was impressive when viewed in concert with his victory at the previous F1 stop in Italy. Marina Bay and Monza are about as different as two circuits can be: Singapore has a twisty, bumpy street layout, while Italy’s track is the fastest on the calendar.

Winning on both indicates that the Ferrari driver has the car to tackle any of the remaining circuits, beginning with Suzuka in Japan on Oct. 10, followed – maybe – by Korea, with Brazil and Abu Dhabi hosting the final two races.

Red Bull’s early-season dominance may have been negated, but the car is still very competitive and seems just as well tailored to the remaining tracks as the Ferrari. The team also appears to have solved its habit of bad starts, as both drivers got off the grid well in Singapore.

However, there is the possibility that Webber and Vettel will take points off each other during the remaining races, as will the McLaren duo. Alonso doesn’t have that problem since his Ferrari teammate, Felipe Massa, is out of contention.

The McLarens were clearly third best in Singapore, though the twisty Marina Bay circuit is one that does not suit their car. They are likely to perform much better in the races ahead, particularly in Japan and Brazil, and given the rapid changes in momentum in this year’s championship race, McLaren remains a title threat.

The first thing that needs to happen to boost McLaren’s chances is for Hamilton to start being more prudent. Both in Italy and Singapore he crashed out while attempting overly ambitious passing maneuvers.

Button, who came so close to winning in Italy, was a low-profile fourth in Singapore, yet remains very much alive in title calculations. This time last year he was anxiously looking over his shoulder at rivals devouring his championship lead, but in 2010 he is happy letting others sweat it out up front.