Red Bull and Vettel praying rain and the Terminator take a back seat
In the Red Bull garage yesterday the mechanics, preparing for the two practice sessions, were busier than sailors in a storm, although a storm is the very last thing they want here tomorrow. Energetic, frenetic work concentrates the mind, banishes the unthinkable. But when the tools are put down and when the engines fall silent the nagging, neurotic worries invade the psyche once again: Fernando Alonso could actually win the Formula One world championship.
“We’re in the best possible position,” says Red Bull’s championship leader Sebastian Vettel. “It’s just one more race out of 20,” says his team principal, Christian Horner. They are trying to convince themselves as much as anybody else.
Nothing should go wrong for Red Bull at Interlagos, one of F1’s most evocative arenas. Vettel has a lead of 13 points and has only to finish in the top four to make sure of his third title in succession. He also has the fastest car. And Red Bull have won the last three races here. But what if it rains? And what if their troublesome alternator blows one more, fatal time?
Most of all, though, they are up against Alonso. Every time Vettel looks round the Spaniard is there, patiently, painstakingly tracking his flustered quarry. “Fernando is the Terminator,” said someone in the paddock yesterday, finding an altogether different image. “You can keep shooting him but he still keeps coming after you.”
Alonso has been coming after people, and invariably passing them, ever since his brilliant career gathered a compelling momentum at Renault in 2003. Like Vettel he is a double world champion – whatever happens here we will have the youngest winner of three titles, replacing Ayrton Senna.
Red Bull know that, if Vettel fails to finish, Alonso needs only to get on the podium to seize the prize. They are worried about that alternator which has twice brought Vettel to a standstill and put paid to Mark Webber’s race in Texas a week ago. They are trying a new one here – hardly the best time for experimentation.
The rain, which is forecast to fall tomorrow, and possibly in time for today’s qualifying session, is an even bigger worry, since it would play into Alonso’s hands. Jenson Button, who won the 2009 title here with a series of dashing overtaking manoeuvres, says: “If it rains, Fernando’s chances are very good. Every wet race he’s done, he’s been quick. That’s because of him and also the car. And when it rains here, it rains. There are rivers. It’s a very, very difficult circuit in the wet.
“If it’s dry, you would say that, if Sebastian qualifies well, it’s pretty easy for the world championship. But if it’s wet, it really does mix it up.”
Alonso has not won a race since the German Grand Prix in July. He was second at Silverstone. Both times Alonso thrived in wet qualifying conditions. He also won in the rain in Malaysia in the second race of the season. It is not that Vettel cannot cope with wet conditions. But the rain falls on Alonso and his scarlet chariot like a sprinkling of holy water.