Red Bull’s Mark Webber has admitted on the eve of the Singapore Grand Prix that he has no realistic hope of winning the Formula One drivers’ title.
The popular Australian, who won his first F1 race in Germany this year and who will start his ninth season in the top flight for Red Bull in 2010, rose as high as second in the championship following the Hungarian Grand Prix.
But, after two disastrous races in which his Red Bull colleague Sebastian Vettel scored just seven points, and he scored none, the team’s championship charge has stalled. It now seems certain that one of the two Brawn GP drivers will lift the trophy.
Webber told Autosport: “The drivers’ championship is very difficult now. Jenson only has to get four or five points over us here and then it is all over.
“I am coming here trying to get the best result for me, but I am looking forward to Suzuka. There are some tracks coming up where we can get a good result, but I think the championship is very difficult for us now.”
All Ross Brawn’s years of experience will be needed in the next few weeks to negotiate his way through the minefield obscuring his team’s road to the championship.
With two drivers in the running, a promise that they will be allowed to openly compete and a strong rumour of Nico Rosberg joining the team next year, he must do everything in his power to keep control of the situation and prevent the almost unimaginable prize of a championship double in his first year of competition from slipping away.
For McLaren, nothing less than a race win will suffice after Lewis Hamilton came agonisingly close in both Belgium and Italy. A front-row start at Spa was ruined when he crashed out in a first-lap incident. A certain-looking podium was lost on the final lap at Monza as he pushed too hard and lost control attempting to chase down Jenson Button.
The team has also announced that it is ceasing development on the beleagured MP4-24 in favour of its 2010 successor, so this may well be Hamilton’s last chance to shine, and rear-gunner Heikki Kovalainen’s last chance of securing his job.
And Williams may well take the opportunity presented by the race to announce that newly-minted GP2 champion Nico Hulkenberg will be driving for its race squad next year.
Kazuki Nakajima’s drive will dry up with the team’s supply of Toyota engines, and Rosberg is strongly rumoured to be on his bike, so the team could be looking at an all-new driver line-up. Fortunately its strong 2009 performance means it should be able to attract some worthwhile talent.
The European season is now over and Formula One has four ‘flyaway’ races in which the titles will be decided, including the Singapore date.
The Marina Bay Street Circuit is roughly 5km long and made up entirely of public roads with an anti-clockwise layout and plenty of first- and second-gear bends among its 23 corners – making it a long lap and a slow circuit requiring maximum levels of aerodynamic downforce.
It is only fitting that, in keeping with the sport’s love of drama, a major race-fixing scandal from Renault should have broken on the eve of the race in which the controversial events happened a year ago.
Publicly, everybody says they want to move on. But the ramifications will be impossible to ignore in the paddock, with the larger-than-life figure of Briatore now permanently absent and Nelson Piquet Sr reportedly offering such largesse to next year’s new entrants that his son’s driving career may not be in the toilet after all.
Meanwhile an unassuming Irishman by the name of Bob Bell has temporarily taken the reins at Renault in a bid to steady the ship by means of a canny internal promotion.
For all that Singapore is touted in some quarters as ‘the new Monaco’ it has not yet demonstrated anything resembling that grand old dame’s class. And the Renault scandal leaves it needing to prove itself as a race venue every bit as much now as it did in its first year on the calendar.
Brawn GP: everything to play for
Ahead of the Singapore Grand Prix, Ross Brawn said he thought that last year the race organisers had put on an event to be proud of and added that the team was looking forward to returning.
“The team and our drivers performed extremely well in Monza to achieve a one-two finish at the last race and we will be hoping to carry that momentum through to Singapore.
“We have a significant aerodynamic upgrade for the BGP 001 for this weekend which should bring another good step in performance for the final races of the season.
“The nature of the Marina Bay Street Circuit is tight, twisty and very narrow in places with many first and second gear corners resulting in low average speeds so we will be running the car in a high aerodynamic downforce configuration.”
Button added: “Last year’s Singapore Grand Prix was an amazing experience and it really was one of the highlights of the year. Driving under the lights was great fun and the visibility was pretty good although some corners such as turns one and five were a bit dark which made it more difficult to judge your braking distances.
“The Marina Bay Street Circuit is pretty challenging and although it has a stop-start layout which isn’t usually my favourite type of circuit, I still enjoyed driving it.
“As last year, we will stay on European timing for the race weekend which means staying awake throughout the night and sleeping most of the day to ensure that we are alert and the body is ready to react in the right way for the evening timetable.
“I spent some time at the factory last week driving the circuit on our simulator which helps with the track layout, gears and downforce levels so we are well prepared and looking forward to arriving in Singapore and getting the weekend underway.”
McLaren: Last chance for Hamilton to shine
McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said he was happy that his squad had developed the troublesome MP4-24 into “a pretty decent all-round competitior” before ceasing development on it and that he remained confident for the Singapore race.
“For this race, we are introducing our last major upgrade package of the season before fully devoting our efforts and resources towards next year’s car.
“Last year’s event was a fantastic success and a testimony to what can be achieved in Formula 1 when you have vision, dedication and foresight.
“Everybody at Vodafone McLaren Mercedes is looking forward to these final four flyaway races, the climax to a thrilling, eventful and unexpected title battle and our own steadily improving fortunes. Singapore is a fantastic advertisement for Formula 1.”
Hamilton added: “Last year’s inaugural Singapore Grand Prix was a real example of how to host a new Formula 1 race – fantastic facilities, slick organisation and a unique and interesting track that was not only fun and demanding but also really forced you to push to the limit and take a few risks to get the best from the car.
“I remember my race in Singapore last year was all about damage limitation. I was driving with one eye on the world championship and wasn’t going to take too many risks. I was happy to finish on the podium.
“This year, it’s very different — I know I’m out of the title hunt and I want to attack these last four races, pushing for as many victories as I can.”