Formula One: Title fight goes down to the wire
If Mark Webber fails to win the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next weekend, Red Bull will not win the drivers' world championship to go with the constructors' title that they clinched at Interlagos.
Those were the hard facts after a race which was Vettel's all the way, and in which Alonso only came into contention to challenge Webber in the closing stages after a crash by Force India's Tonio Liuzzi on the 50th lap had brought out the safety car.
At the end Vettel was 4.2s ahead of Webber, who was 2.5s ahead of Alonso. The Spaniard thus retained his championship points lead with 246 over Webber on 238 and Vettel on 231. Had Red Bull elected to adopt team orders and let Webber win — something that the governing body allows when championships are at stake — Webber would have left Brazil with 245 points.
For some that was confirmation of his suggestion that Vettel is the team's favoured driver —which generated an angry call from team boss Dietrich Mateschitz in Austria and was much-denied by team principal Christian Horner.
And it sets up a situation where, if the result is repeated next weekend, as is likely, Vettel and Webber will tie on 256 — five behind Alonso.
“That's the way it is,” Webber said of the current situation, “how they handled the points situation today. P1 would have been nice but it was not possible. But I'm still in the hunt and it's nice for me to come back after a poor race in Korea.”
He was, of course, choosing his words carefully, for his expression said it all.
So did Vettel's.
“I think this was an incredible day,” he beamed. “It was not an easy race to start with. I saw that Nico [surprise polesitter Hulkenberg] got too much wheelspin and used my momentum just to squeeze down inside. There was not too much space but it was just enough and that was key for me. After that I was able to control the race from there.
“This was an incredible effort from the team, and not an easy season. After Korea it was the right answer for all our people to come back here, all pull on one string, and get us a 1-2 and win the constructors' title with one race to go. That's fantastic. And we can still fight for the drivers' title. But we need to get rid of this guy!”
The latter was a reference to Alonso, whom Vettel must outscore by 16 points even if he wins in Abu Dhabi.
“I don't wish anything bad on him but it would be nice to see some Ferrari smoke!” he laughed. “But seriously, I just have to focus on myself as I did here and try to repeat there and see where he's finishing. In a week's time we'll know.”
Fourth and fifth places spelled the effective end of the McLaren drivers' challenges. Lewis Hamilton drove a fighting race in a car that was only a match for the Red Bulls and Ferraris on the harder Bridgestone tyres and not in the crucial early stages on their supersoft rubber.
He set the fastest lap on the 66th of the 71 laps, but the presence of lapped traffic between his McLaren and Alonso's Ferrari ruined his chances of moving up a place in the closing stages. Germany's Nick Heidfeld was later given a drive-through penalty in his Sauber for ignoring the McLarens in his mirrors.
Hamilton's fourth place leaves him mathematically a point short of ultimate exclusion, with 222 points to Alonso's 246 and a maximum of 25 available in Abu Dhabi.
Nevertheless, it is still the first time in history that four drivers go to the last race with the chance of becoming champion.
Team-mate Jenson Button, still the reigning world champion for another week, is now out of the fight after finishing fifth and bringing his points tally to 199.
“We weren't quick enough here and we won't be quick enough in Abu Dhabi,” Hamilton said. “Realistically, we need a miracle. But I'll keep trying, we have nothing to lose now.
“It was a tough race. The car was nowhere, I had no grip. I feel quite lucky to have finished where I finished. The car didn't feel like it did in practice, down the straights particularly. I didn't think the F-duct was working because I was struggling to overtake backmarkers and Fernando shot by on the straight.
“The team did a great job with the strategy, but you just can't win with a car that's not quick enough.”