At the halfway point in the season, Sebastian Vettel has a commanding 38 point championship lead. Having taken the lead after round three, he has been unchallenged at the front, with second place currently belonging to Kimi Räikkönen, having previously been in the hands of Fernando Alonso. With at least a race win in hand, and a fourth place, Vettel is certainly in a commanding position going into the second half of the season, but is he cruising towards a fourth world championship?
So far, Vettel has taken three very different routes to his championships:
1) Leading when it matters
In 2010 he never led the championship. Going into the last race he was one of four drivers who could clinch the title at Abu Dhabi, with a number of permutations. Alonso had an eight point lead over Mark Webber, who in turn was seven points ahead of his team-mate Vettel. Lewis Hamilton was an outside chance, having to win the race with Vettel finishing third or lower, Webber sixth or lower and Alonso outside the top ten. In the end, Alonso and Webber got caught up behind Vitaly Petrov, with Alonso becoming particularly frustrated. Vettel qualified on pole and went on to win the race. So, for the first and only time that year he led the drivers’ championship, and what a time to do it. He became the youngest world champion with a four point advantage over Alonso.
2) Never losing the lead
2011 couldn’t have been more different for Vettel – 15 pole positions and 11 wins. He didn’t finish outside the top four once during the whole season, and only had one DNF result. After winning the first race of the season, Vettel held the championship lead right the way through to Brazil. The end result was a commanding 122 championship point win over Jenson Button. At that rate, Vettel could have afforded to take four races off with Button winning all of them, and he would still be champion. He wrapped it all up at the Japanese Grand Prix, where he arrived needing only one point, with four races left.
3) A late surge to win
Already a two-time world champion, Vettel faced different challenges again in 2012. It was the year that saw seven different winners in the first seven races, with no one team or driver dominating. Vettel’s first race win that year came at round four and he had a mixed season after that. It wasn’t until the Singapore GP that he won again, and went on to win the next three races as well. Well on his way, it again went down to the last race of the season as had been the case in 2010. This time, however, it was advantage Vettel as he had a 13 point cushion over Alonso.
But what of 2013?
With nine races of the season remaining, Vettel looks in good shape to secure his fourth successive world championship. He has won the most races of anyone so far – four to Alonso and Nico Rosberg’s two apiece – and has the most podiums (seven) along with nine out of ten points finishes. But, as we have seen in the past anything can happen. At this stage of the season in 2010, Hamilton had a 12 point lead over his nearest rival, team-mate Button and 24 ahead of Vettel. The most significant gap, however, was his 47 point advantage over Alonso. By the end of the season Vettel had won the championship by four points from Alonso, who had negated the gap to Hamilton. In total the Spaniard made up 59 points in nine races over Hamilton.
In Vettel’s runaway year, he already had a 82 point advantage over Hamilton – his nearest rival – by this stage in the season. This figure grew to 122 by the end of the year when the Red Bull driver secured the title ahead of Button. 2012 is the most similar in terms of this year’s championship. Bearing in mind 2012 had 20 races, it is necessary to consider the results after 11 rounds, leaving nine races. Last season Alonso had a 42 point lead over nearest rival Vettel and was 47 points clear of then third placed Hamilton. Vettel was the driver overcoming the big deficit, making up 45 points to win the championship by three points over Alonso. This was certainly helped by four wins in a row, although Alonso was on the podium three out of those four occasions.
So, for Alonso, Räikkönen and to a certain extent Hamilton, all hope is not lost. A 38 point lead does seem rather large, but there are still nine races remaining in which anything can happen. Räikkönen came from behind to win the 2007 world championship by one point while Alonso overcame a deficit in 2010, although narrowly missed out on winning the title. Is Vettel cruising towards a fourth world championship? Probably. But can he be beaten? It’s not impossible.