Luck, history against Alonso
TITLE HOPES IN THE DUST: Ferrari's Fernando Alonso spins off the Suzuka track at the start of the 2012 Japanese GF1 GP after a collision with Kimi Raikkonen. Image: AP
Author: GORDON HOWARD
SUZUKA, Japan - If statistical evidence is to be taken seriously then Fernando Alonso knows his hopes of winning a third World title virtually ended at Turn 1 of Sunday's Japanese F1 GP.
The collision there, when Kimi Raikkonen’s front wing punctured Alonso's left rear tyre, eliminated the Spaniard from the race, left defending champion Sebastian Vettel free to win, and cut his lead from 29 points to four.
FIVE TO GO
If all that were not bad enough, Alonso will know that only one of the previous 17 winners of the Japanese GP won the title - Ferrari's Rubens Barrichello in 2003.
With five races remaining, and such a flimsy lead to protect, Alonso remained admirably defiant on Sunday night while all around him drivers were warning that he faced a tough challenge for a third World title.
Vettel, Drivers’ champion in 2010 and 2011, became the first man this year to reel off consecutive wins as he sauntered to success at Suzuka and proved that he has gained momentum at just the right time.
"It's going to be very tough to hold on to Sebastian," said McLaren’s Jenson Button, champion in 2009. "Alonso’s lead has gone but that's not all. It's also very tough for him because the Red Bulls are so fast now. Ferrari is pretty quick, but not as quick."
Alonso's misfortune was his second in four races in a season of otherwise almost flawless consistency; both of his unscheduled early exits were caused by other drivers. He was eliminated in Belgium in September 2012 by Romain Grosjean of Lotus, branded “a first-lap nutcase" by Red Bull's Mark Webber on Sunday after shunting the Australian just after the start.
Alonso refused to talk to reporters immediately after his exit but he later said: "It was a shame. It is always sad when you cannot do the first corner, but we need to concentrate and think about next week.”
His Ferrari team chief Stefano Domenicali felt the same: "The most important thing with five races remaining is to stay really rational and not fall to the worst enemy of the team – pressure.”
Vettel was careful not to be drawn into any unwise predictions. "This was an important win and an important step but there is a long way to go," he said. "You don't wish these things on people. It's a long season and you don't know what's going to happen. It could be us in the next race.”