A One Horse and One Bull Race

As Formula One hurtles towards the final four races of what had proved to be a turbulent season, we have been left with just two drivers battling for their third titles. The Bull and the Horse. The new kid on the block and the elder statesman. The energy drink and the historic marque. We’ve seen this before in the sport, but the artistry of these two foes has been see elsewhere too. Picasso used the motif of the horse and the bull regularly, and it might be an artist Vettel would like to invest in.

Although the horse was sometimes depicted as elegant and dark, it was the bull who often dominated, goring the horse in bullfighting images. And Picasso’s evident obsession with bullfighting is a excellent metaphor for what we will see before Brazil, toe to toe fighting with blows aimed at each others weaknesses. Strategy, a keen eye and knowing when to strike and a healthy dose of luck, athleticism and bravery all necessary components to a successful fight. Whether in a ring or around a circuit, it does not matter.

Although perhaps a sliver of caution might be worth employing after the way 2012 has unfolded on the asphalt this year, it seems entirely likely that the title chase has been slimmed down to two admirable fighters. Way back in Australia both Red Bull and Ferrari were not title favourites, it was McLaren all the way with their smooth nose and a double podium.

However Formula One was given a hard lesson in unpredictability, it took until Valencia to see the first double winner and before then two new names were added to the winners list, Rosberg and Maldonado. That double winner was Alonso, who had dragged his lame pony beyond the realms of what was thought possible for the prancing horse, showing his considerable skill and exactly why he commands so much respect.

Who’s in?

Sebastian Vettel

Beginning a season after such a dominant display in 2011 Vettel, as well as his team, had the weight of expectation on his shoulders like no other driver. Media and fans alike were poised to see him pick up where he left up, but it was McLaren who were taking up the right column inches. With the ban on blown diffusers Red Bull Racing was already on the back foot, and Vettel more so than Webber to begin with when he seemed ill at ease with the car, while his teammate agreed with Newey’s direction. However, despite this hurdle Vettel has been another regular point scorer. He’s also been a regular winner too.

Consistency was lauded as the key to winning the championship after Australia and although he has frequented the podium a lot less this season, that same idea stands but yet again wins just may prevail. Taking his first win in Bahrain, it took until Singapore for him to take his second, but in a rather good impression of 2011 he then dominated the next two races. Three in a row, it’s down to Alonso to tame the bull. Or a dodgy alternator.

Points: 215

Fernando Alonso

As the old adage goes, don’t count Alonso out, and yet again this season we have watched the Spaniard yet again put a car were is ought not to be. Not to say a Ferrari does not belong on the podium, but as we saw in testing yet again the prancing horse was trailing behind the likes of McLaren and Red Bull. The beginning of the season seems to be a tough time for the Italian outfit, and it was safe to assume back then that the Tifosi were going to have to wait until mid-season to see an upturn in form, but Alonso wasn’t willing to wait this season.

A fantastic race in Malaysia, although under pressure from a superb Perez, Alonso showed what he could do in a car well off the pace, a nod to his 2001 season with Minardi, where he found himself ahead of more established teams and a more experienced teammate on occasions. It’s been a regular feature of his career, and his innate ability to make the most of his car is something he’s bettered as time has gone on, good news for his rivals. After a third place on the podium in Korea he relinquished the lead he had built up, two retirements in Belgium (Grosjean’s eagerness) and Japan (Raikkonen’s front wing was peckish) saw Vettel nip ahead.

But what has Alonso still one of the favourites to win is his consistency, retirements aside he has earned points at every race which has seen off all but one of the contenders. It’s an impressive feat considering the instability of the season the grid has experienced so far.

Points: 209

Who’s out?

Kimi Raikkonen

The Iceman has had a simply fantastic return to the sport after a two year hiatus, he left Ferrari behind to take up rallying but it was clear he was unsettled as he switched between series trying to discover a new outlet. However it wasn’t long until the Finn found himself donning the black and gold of Lotus to make a welcome return to Formula One, a team seemingly in tune with his dislike of excessive PR. And from what the pairing has produced they’ve made it look like a match made in (almost) heaven, a few tyre strategies aside.

What is perhaps more astonishing is that Raikkonen is occupying the third spot in the driver standings without a win to his name, the team has nine podiums between its two drivers and is just 29 points behind McLaren who have five wins to their name. A startling reminder that without the constant collection of good points every weekend, the wins can mean less and less.

Points: 167

Lewis Hamilton

Without a doubt 2011 was his annus horriblis and to see him successfully leave that behind in 2012 was heartening, shame the car faded so fast from it’s promising form in testing and the early races. Hamilton has illustrated that he has natural racing talent (24th to 6th in Spain), but McLaren has proved to be a frustration for the 2008 champion, with tardy pitstops (Malaysia and Bahrain) and mechanical failures (suspension issues in Germany, a gearbox issue in Singapore and an anti roll bar failure in Korea),  he’s out of the title hunt after once being a thorn in Vettel and Hamilton’s side. Tipped to be the one to bring the formidable duo down, it is a shame that it was taken out of his hands.

However his switch to Mercedes for at least three years announced before the Japanese GP has cast a new light on his recent seasons at McLaren. Hamilton hasn’t said a great deal beyond a few misjudged tweets, but to the outsider it looks like the driver they have brought up is now wanting to spread his wings and flex his muscles, and this doesn’t fit with the constrained McLaren image. If Hamilton wants a challenge, he’s going to get it at Mercedes.

Points: 153

Mark Webber

They say that if Mark Webber had no bad luck, he would have no luck at all, and looking at his races since Silverstone it’s easy to agree with that particular maxim. Not to say that some it is his own doing, or that you can’t make your own luck, however Webber is renown for his lack of it and this season has proven that yet again.

Since his second win of the season in Silverstone after a dominant win around the streets of Monaco, Webber had score a paltry 18 points until Korea where he doubled that. And in the light of the recent McLaren resurgence, a once limping Jenson Button has even managed to catch the Australian up before another retirement from Button. This obviously doesn’t make for good reading for Webber who, although having inked a deal for a 2013 seat, is running out of time to get on top of the mighty force of Vettel and take a championship many believe he is capable of.

Points: 152

Jenson Button

Nobody expected much from Button when he joined McLaren, but one time playboy matured with a championship title and has driven better with each following season, a feat that  has not gone unnoticed, especially in 2011. Last season he was triumphant against Hamilton and was the only other driver that, for a short while, looked to have been able to put the squeeze on Vettel, although unsuccessful he was tipped for glory this season.

And the man from Frome looked set to fulfil the prophecy this year after an emphatic win in Australia, however since he has been served a raft of problems. Contact with Karthikeyan in Malaysia, a poor pit stop in China, differential problems in Bahrain, serious lack of pace in Canada and fuel pressure issue in Italy and a collision with Kobayashi in Korea to name but a few. For the plucky Brit this year has been littered with misfortune, and has spent much of the season at a loss to explain the root cause of why he’s been unable to haul himself up. But with a young gun in the shape of Perez joining him next year, a fresh challenge as team leader might be all he needs.

Points: 131

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