A few weeks ago, if trying to pick a favourite for the 2010 Formula One world drivers championship, you would have had several names to choose from. Jenson Button, Fernando Alonso and even Mercedes GP’s Nico Rosberg all seemed to be in the mix.
For lovers of the underdog, Renault’s Robert Kubica was starting to look a little bit tasty – leading to a sharp surge of hope in everyone who had backed him at long prices to repeat Button’s feat of 2009.
But this week, after Barcelona and Monaco, the decision doesn’t seem nearly so tricky. Now, with reliability issues seemingly under control if not entirely banished, it’s down to which of the two Red Bull drivers you favour for the big prize.
The Milton Keynes squad has been, both literally and figuratively, too far down the road for anyone else to touch them. The first question is, can they stay there?
And the second is whether or not Mark Webber’s nine years’ experience of grand prix competition and obdurate attitude can trump Sebastian Vettel’s consummate competitiveness and incandescent talent.
Both these questions should be compelling and should do much to entertain us during this weekend’s Turkish Grand Prix.
So, if those two are out front with a lead of 20 or so seconds on everyone else, what should we be watching behind them?
Turkey is widely seen as a big test for Ferrari’s Felipe Massa. Having emerged from the shadow of Schumacher to become a World Championship competitor in 2008, then winning huge fan support and a vote of confidence from the team following his 2009 accident, he has been comprehensively out-psyched by new colleague Fernando Alonso in 2010.
Istanbul Park has always been Massa’s track, the place where he could take on Schumacher at Ferrari, and his fans will be keen to see him hand out the same treatment to Alonso this weekend.
For McLaren the signs thumbtacked to the garage walls should read: “Note to selves: no more cock-ups.” The Woking-based squad, renowned for near-metronomic precision under previous team principal Ron Dennis, has had a moment of one sort or another in almost every race this season.
Whether judging pit stops, tyre choices or, perhaps most memorably in Monaco, acknowledging the failure to remove the plug from an air intake on Jenson Button’s car in Monaco, which led to the engine cooking behind a safety car, McLaren needs to quickly raise its game – and it knows this.
At Mercedes GP we invite you to consider the issue of wheelbase length. Put in slightly more human terms, the team’s new, long-wheelbase car is thought to favour Michael Schumacher over Rosberg, and it will be back in service this weekend.
The team had run the short version in Monaco due to the demands of the twisty street circuit, but this weekend returns to the long version, which made its debut in Barcelona.
The younger driver still enjoys a points total more than double his team-mate’s but Schumacher will be keen to start chipping away at that if his performance at Monaco is any guide.
Renault will be looking for another good result after Kubica’s podium in Monaco, while Williams are doing well to turn up at Istanbul in full racing trim after their festival of carbon fibre last weekend.
That saw both cars severely damaged in separate incidents – after Hulkenberg learned why the tunnel has the reputation it does and Barrichello lost a fight with a drain cover.
The team will be running an earlier-specification wing this weekend, after a manufacturing backlog at its Grove factory which is unlikely to do much to improve what has been a dreadfully disappointing season for the veteran squad.
Towards the back of the field, Hispania has announced the end of its chassis partnership with Dallara and said it will now be concentrating on developing the car itself.
And, in reserve driver news, Force India has said that it will not be running Paul di Resta in practice as its drivers need the track time for car development.