Who will come out on top in the closest championship battle in years?

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

McLaren have momentum but their rivals aren't far behind
McLaren have momentum but their rivals aren't far behind

You have to go back a long way to find a championship as closely-fought as this one. Five different drivers have led the championship so far – and one of five different drivers’ could be leading it after the next round.

It’s a far cry from this time last year, when Jenson Button could have taken two weekends off and still come back leading the world championship.

But what matters most is who’s ahead on the evening of Sunday 14th of November. Who will it be?

At least five drivers in the running

The new points system is not responsible for the closely-fought championship we are enjoying.

The reason the title fight is so close is because in eight races, no-one has won more than two. Whereas eight races into last year, Button had won six times.

Here’s how the top five would look under last year’s points system:

Driver Actual points Under ’03-’09 points
Lewis Hamilton 109 44
Jenson Button 106 43
Mark Webber 103 40
Fernando Alonso 94 38
Sebastian Vettel 90 37

Having five drivers within a win of the championship lead at this stage in the season is extremely unusual.

And although Felipe Massa may be down in eighth place at the moment, it’s too soon to rule him out. However I expect Nico Rosberg and Robert Kubica won’t ultimately be in contention for the title as their cars don’t seem to be quick enough, often enough.

Two years ago Massa, Kubica, Kimi R??ikk??nen and Lewis Hamilton were covered by ten points after eight races. But this year it’s even closer, with five drivers covered by seven points in ‘old money’.

In most championships over the last decade, the eventual championship leader was usually ahead at this stage, typically with a two-win points advantage over his nearest rival.

This year’s title race is already looking like one to savour. But who will prevail?

The run to the title

How much the top three teams can improve their cars will decide whether they remain championship contenders.

Ferrari have promised a major upgrade for the next race on the calendar, with rumours suggesting they are to adopt Red Bull’s exhaust-driven diffuser configuration. Of the three teams at the sharp end of the championship, they are the ones that most urgently need a step forward.

As we’ve seen in recent seasons, McLaren can be expected to make rapid progress developing their car and they have the momentum after consecutive one-two finishes.

Red Bull developed their RB5 well last year, ending the championship with what was clearly the fastest car. They’ve made a lot of progress this year too, but have been stymied by some rule ‘clarifications’, the last of which – concerning their suspension – appears to have hit them hardest.

How will the teams’ cars perform over the remaining races? Based on what we’ve seen so far we can draw some broad conclusions:

Valencia Street Circuit – Likely to be a McLaren benefit but Ferrari may benefit from softer tyre mix
Silverstone – A Red Bull defeat would be a surprise
Hockenheimring – A close call, tyre options could prove decisive
Hungaroring – Not much use for an F-duct around here…
Spa-Francorchamps – Red Bull’s speed through the corners should keep them safe on the straights
Monza – Long straights and few fast corners – look to McLaren, and Ferrari who should go well at home
Singapore – Should suit McLaren best
Suzuka – Expect Red Bull to be strong
Korea International Circuit – On paper it looks like a good track for Red Bull
Interlagos – At the moment McLaren will like the long straight but not the bumps, Red Bull look good on the infield
Yas Island – Smooth surface, long straights, slow corners – should suit McLaren

These assumptions will change as the teams improve their cars, remedying their weaknesses and enhancing their strengths.

Bridgestone’s choice of tyres for the remaining races will also be important. Particularly for Ferrari, who’ve generally fared better at races where the super-soft and medium tyres were supplied (Bahrain, Monaco, Canada) than the soft and hard.

After that it’s mostly down to what the drivers can do with the cards they’ve been dealt. Every qualifying lap, every pit stop, every overtaking move, every tyre gamble on a rainy day will be crucial.

Who come out on top? Have your say in the comments.

The battle for the drivers' championship
The battle for the drivers' championship (click to enlarge)

152 comments on “Who will come out on top in the closest championship battle in years?”

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  1. judging by both McLaren’s development last year and your list, I’l be betting on McLaren

    1. Judging by the same developments you mention i wont rule out RedBull. The last races of 2009 was a straight fight between them and McLaren.

      My money goes on Hamilton, Webber and Alonso in that order

      1. I think the McLaren drivers/team/car have an advantage due to consistency. The RedBull and Ferrari have reliability issues and the Ferrari is questionable on development. The RedBull drivers are a bit inconsistent as well. If I was betting on it, I’d say McLaren. If so, it will be interesting to see who prevails at McLaren. You can never underestimate Ferrari’s development and Alonso has what it takes, so he would be my next bet.

    2. Agreed! Looks like the lads have got it together…

    3. Me too, I think Button will end up winning.

      Ferrari could play more into it soon though, Alonso’s done well to keep with the Mclarens and Red Bulls while the Ferraris been off the pace.

  2. My money is on Hamilton and McLaren. If he has bad days he finishes 6th, while one the others…
    Jenson looks now tagging along and you can’t rely whole season on correct pit calls on rainy days, can you?
    Red Bull are too fragile and too opportunistic. Both Mark and Seb have been making mistakes and making contacts.
    Ferrari (or Fernando) is taking most out of the car but has overdone it too many this year and if the next (Big) update doesn’t eliminate the need to jump over the shadow then i am afraid that this years train is gone for him.

    1. Making contacts? Turkey was one race and some people seem to now think Red Bull have crashed into eachother in every single race. I don’t get…

      1. Well Webber did crash into Hamilton as well (in OZ)

  3. If McLaren are almost matching RBR without an exhaust driven diffuser, they have to be favourites once they get it? Don’t think it’ll be that simple though.

    It’s shaping up to be a cracking season – if the top five are all in contention by the time we get to Interlagos, the Brazil GP should be a classic. Can’t wait.

    1. And then the real finisher will be in Abu Dhabi!

      1. Pfft don’t make up fake final races, we all know the championship finishes at Interlagos ;)

  4. With the Ferrari upgrade I don’t know how the cars will go. They should all really be in it from on esp with the rate of development. I don’t think it will swing as wildly as it did last year with Brawn winning and then midfield beacuse everyone is still moving forward.

    I think Massa’s campaign will trundle on for a little longer but he needs to push Alo further and have some more luck. Valencia could be a key point for him with the Ferrari upgrade and it’s a track where he dominated in 08 although it is Alonso’s home.

    JB has never put a foot wrong (maybe Bahrain quali) but he’s lacking a little on pace. Hamilton and Webber are the ones who really look like champion material thsi year but Webber had his carnage at Aus and Hamilton showed he still relies heavily on the team that race too so they’ve had their issues. Vettel seems just to have faded he’s either beaten by Webber or driving into him. He ended up ahead on Sunday but Webber still made more of an impression after that grid penalty. Alo will just be counting up all the lost points but he’s the best out there in my opinion but mistakes as frequently don’t often deliver the title.

    In the end I’d say Hamilton, Alonso, Webber and possibly Vettel if he can get in the game and Button waiting on the outskirts. I’m watching Ham, Alo and Web though and expet one of them to take the crown and right now the momentum seems to have moved from Webber to Hamilton. This season changes quickly.

    1. I hope that update works for Ferrari – I highly doubt rumours of 0.7 seconds, but 0.4s would be much needed to be able to compete more consistently and keep Alonso from having to overdrive the team and car to stay in the fight. I want this to go to the last race.

      Agree with those three, and outsiders Vettel/Button being the players. But above all, it is great to not be able to be sure about that yet!

    2. In fact there is a major upgrade coming for Valencia, but they are planning another improvements for Silverstone and Hockenheimring.

      I don’t write off Ferrari at this moment, but we will see soon if they have cut the advantage of RBR and McLaren… or not

    3. I wonder how much of the development has focused on the f-duct, what kind resources have been diverted towards that? I hope the update brings them back up to the level of Mclaren and RBR. A battle between ham, button, webber, and alonso for the championship. Not convinced about vettel for the championship at the moment.

      But yes, when the updates come out, it will be interesting to see where they have spent their resources.

    4. “Filming at Fiorano” on 18 June 2010 sees Alonso driving the updated car:

      … at least it looks sleek and well integrated, and not too adventurous, so unlikely to be a negative at first use, as F-duct proved to be.

      I really like how it makes the sides look!

  5. Mark and Lewis have come a long way. How incredible this is shaping up to be. two or three races ago, it was Vettel for the win and Red Bull in cruise mode. Now Lewis and Jenson are the best drivers pair in the world. What next? Just can’t wait ! (let’s see, Kubica in the mix? Mercedes are back? Massa wins back to back races?)

    1. Anything’s possible still at this point, but I think it highly unlikely that anyone other than the current top 5 make it to the final battle at Yas Island.

  6. Before the season, before testing even, I felt Alonso was favourite – based on historical factors like reliability, this year’s team-mates, likely development speed, driver ability etc. I still felt he was favourite till a race or two ago and couldn’t believe he was then 9-1 at the bookies. I don’t bet but was sorely tempted. Sadly he’s now 6-1 so opportunity gone.

    Now I think Hamilton has to be favourite, but I really think it’s still between him and Alonso. For Alonso to be so close, with a notably poorer car still expecting its first major upgrade, and after he’s already got his season’s worth of mistakes ‘out of the way’, he’s surely still the main contender after Hamilton.

    Like last year, Red Bull are suffering from regulations (Double diffusers/ F-duct allowed, but questions about their suspension etc.) and they’re self destructing. And they just can’t seem to get their strategies right. Webber’s face after Canada where he was told to hold station spoke volumes. Not a happy team, I expect them to finish 3/4 or even 4/5 after the Mclarens and Alonso

  7. Cant rule out Ferrari at some of those tracks. It seems to be an all rounder car, just an average one at that. I reckon the ones that Mclaren run well at are those that Mercedes should be pretty good at too, although it will be very unlikely that they’ll be challenging for victories.

  8. Mclaren are also getting red bulls exhaust system for silverstone whick could throw ups surprise. I’d say mclaren for the championship

    1. Question is, will it work from the start and will they be able to find a good setup with it to make the most from the tyres.

      That’s where Ferrari will have a little advantage, as they can test everything in Valencia and have more time to find the optimum. That said, McLaren has the faster car at the moment and i expect them to encounter less trouble in finding the sweetspot in setup.

      1. Well seeing as McLaren were the last team to run an exhaust fed diffuser (while Newey was still with the team and before the Ferrari “exhaust exits on the top of the side pods” style became the thing to have) I’d say they would be able to get it right pretty quickly.

        1. It is interesting to think that after being the last to abandon exhaust feeding into diffuser, Newey might have been the 1st to pick it up again now that exhausts cannot be used as a vane on top of the sidepod anymore. Could they be moving back to a more traditional position: low at the back of the car?

          Well, until some other changes happen to make another set up preferred, of course.

        2. Mclaren spent two years perfecting the f-duct and they said they wouldn’t run it until they knew it would work. Maybe after seeing what it was like to run the exhaust system before they know it works effectiveley and they are choosing to use it.

  9. Hi Keith.

    Hungary isn’t on your circuit list. Given that RBR did well at Monaco, are they the favorites there? Then again, McLaren won there last year with a worse car than this year.

    FWIW, I think that in this tight a title battle, whoever will manage to be his team’s clear #1 first will prevail (see Kimi in 07 and Lewis in 08). Although that should be Alonso, his car may not prove quick enough over the 2nd half of the season. So it may boil down to whoever can subjugate his teammate first at RBR or McLaren.

    1. hasn’t webber already done that too? oh i’m so cruel…

    2. Oops – added it in, thanks Journeyer.

      1. Nice comment next to the Hungaroring listing, Keith :-D

        I think the Hungaroring will be between both Red Bull cars maybe with Alonso and Kubica bothering them together with both McLarens not far off.
        But we might be lucky this year and find out its raining there somewhere during the race weekend or the tyres somehow fluke!

    3. I agree, and I think Jenson, being a nice chap and easy going person will be happy to back lewis if he is in a better position (:

      1. He didn’t do that in Turkey.

        1. Thats because it was a race win, in this case I think johnno is reffering to when it comes down to a title race, the drivers would have to be daft/blackmailed to sacrifice points to their team-mate when they are still in with a shot to win the championship

  10. I think Ferrari can be the team right behind at least in Valencia and in Singapore (Both Massa and Alonso had some good driving here) and on other tracks as well if they get the Valencia update right. Massa will be hard done to be into the title race, though i don’t count Alonso out if he has the tools to avoid being over the edge (and the luck he seems to have when on the road to the championship).

    For McLaren they have to work hard to be really in the mix at Silverstone as well. That would turn the cards on the form book. I think Hamilton might keep Button in check, but i expect Button to have some good drives and fortunat strategy calls to win and stay in the hunt right to the end.

    I think Red Bull is still having to learn being at the top. The stragegy in Australia, team stragegy-blow up in Turkey and uncertainty and hesitation in Canada (they might have got Webber right behind Button/Alonso). All of this, paired with tech-gremlins make it hard now they failed to cash in on their advantages from the start.
    Also, while they have the team and resources to improve, i have a feeling their car is so good it will be hard to find as much improvement as other teams can. If they can get the upper hand in speed, expect Vettel to come back and be at the front, when they do not get the best speed, but mix it at the front i expect Webber to rake in points and maybe get another win or 2.

  11. “Every qualifying lap, every pit stop, every overtaking move, every tyre gamble on a rainy day will be crucial.”

    Absolutely right Keith. I think anyone of those 5 drivers can be WC. Nothing against Massa but it seems like he just don’t have the pace when it matters to fight with his team mate.We can almost forget Mercedes from here as they don’t have the pace to be there, even I will be surprise if they go on to win a race but will be happy if they does with Schumacher may be somewhere in Silverstone or Spa.They will be fighting with Renault with the 4th place in the championship.

    For the time being it looks like it’s up to Hamilton & Alonso to take the WC trophy from the Red Bulls.

    1. I just realize that Keith you have missed Hungary.I think Red Bull will be good there as that track demands huge amount of downforce.

      1. But Ferrari might also be there, they shown in Monaco, that they were fast.
        And who knows, maybe we will see another driver winning (Kubica, Rosberg) if the race goes 2006 or something.

  12. As for the Battle between Renault and Mercedes, i can still see Renault winning a race this year (Singapore anyone? ;-D), with the right circumstances and some of the top making mistakes or having dnfs.
    And i would not count Brawn out to make the car get to the top step of the podium. Weather the old Gladiator will battle it out there, i am not sure, as i think Rosberg has regained his stride and i see him back on the podium, maybe even on top with some luck.

  13. I’m loathe to guesstimate at this stage but I think it’s gonna be between Red Bull and McLaren with one stipulation – if Red Bull and McLaren develop at exactly the same rate then I think Red Bull will take the title due to it being and inherently faster design than the McLaren. McLaren MUST develop more aggressively and ingeniously than Red Bull if they are to take it.

    I really hope I’m wrong and Ferrari’s upgrade for Valencia (and subsequent upgrades)is gonna put them on top – or on par with whomever is on top and Alonso take the championship by storm. That’s what the heart wants but my brain says the former…

    1. I understand that feeling. I would like Ferrari with Alonso to do it, but somehow i have trouble really believing their uptdat will be enough.

  14. I think McLaren desperately want to win Silverstone and are bringing a package specifically aimed at achieving that. Keith did you take into account the new infield part of the circuit? Does it play to Redbull too?

    Thanks for the circuit low down on current car characteristics. If no cars changed it would be interesting but who knows how each car will be in the next coming months.

    1. By the way, what a great photo.

      1. Well I don’t think Silverstone is a particularly a typical circuit mix of fast an slow corners were time can be made up. Developing a car that wins at Silverstone won’t put you in bad stead for the championship.

        If your car wins at Silverstone, Malaysia, Spain and Turkey the championships almost certainly yours.

  15. To me it is too difficult to judge at this stage. Anything can happen and there are to many factors that can change things around. I just think there is no single team now with optimum form. It is very close between them and that is what I find the most exiting. I hope I am not to optimistic here. So far the races were to boring (except Canada of course) and I hope it will not switch itself ones more in that direction. When next races will proof themselves as good as last one then we can take deep breath sit back and enjoy – as real fans normally did during past years. Who knows maybe the view will clarify it self soon?

  16. I just had a look at my pre season predictions. So far the only thing where i will probably be proven wrong was Vettel beating Webber.

    The rest is still very much possible – Alonso winning WDC and McLaren winning the WCC with Hamilton narrowly beating Button seems realistic. Ok the single Schumi win looks unlikely, as does the win for Rosberg, but you never know.

    I would love to have a late season surge by STR, FI or Renault or Mercedes though, like FI did last year.
    This is a great season all together and i hope there are more of those to come.

    1. This is one of the best seasons I have ever seen. It would be great if the WDC could goto the last race with Alonso, Hamilton, Webber and Vettel in the hunt.

      Its great to see Fernando battling for the WDC this year, for some reason the season is always exciting when he is in the hunt.

  17. Especially after comparing Bahrain and Canada, i am wondering, how much the tyres will be what matters.

    Ferrari will be better on the Medium/ss sets, i don’t think they will be able to completely get rid of their problems with the Hard/soft combination. But i have the feeling Kubica and Renault tend to do better on the harder tyres.

    So what will the tyres brought by bridgestone be like in the next races?

    1. I think a lot will depend on the temperature – at the moment it is not so very hot in Valencia, and rain is not very far away, actually. The cold does not seem to help Ferrari. (But Merc. are worse, having problems when it is cold, or hot, or slippery, or very grippy)

  18. i reckon webber, alonso or button. the experienced heads keeping it together under pressure. but hey, long way to go, i don’t want to predict anything til the final lap in abu dhabi…

    1. Hamilton? He does after all have the experiance of winning a championship, which isn’t bad for his chances.

  19. are you implying something with your choice of photo keith? vettel out of the race already…

  20. It is going to be a four way fight between the two McLarens and the two Red Bulls. Based on current form it would end up with Hamilton on top with Webber a close second.

    McLaren have a lot of momentum and are developing the MP4-25 at a furious rate, and they don’t look like easing off anytime soon (as we saw with the horrid MP4-24). The car has had solid race pace all season, its incredibly quick in a straight line, its got a great engine and it is starting to look seriously quick over one lap in qualifying. Hamilton is in inspired form and Button is hanging in there well. Its starting to look good for the men in Silver and Rocket Red.

    But I’m expecting Red Bull to fight back in a big way. They have the design genius of Adrian Newey and a car which is still the quickest thing out there. If they would just stop shooting themeselves in the foot with poor reliability and the drivers occasional brain fade moments, they should be the favourites. It’s theirs to loose in all honesty.

    I’m not expecting much from Ferrari’s upgrade at Valencia. The result in Canada was more down to Alonso’s driving abilities than the cars pace in my book.

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