• Karun Chandhok's ESPNF1 column

Momentum is such a valuable thing

Karun Chandhok October 10, 2012
In Japan Sebastian Vettel became the first driver to win back-to-back races this season © Press Association
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Winning a championship in any form of motorsport requires speed, consistency, reliability and a slice of luck. There are plenty of uncertainties that come up, plenty of unpredictable events and enough twists and turns that make it hard to predict the outcome. One thing is certain though - momentum can go a long way to helping a team or driver secure a championship.

A championship campaign can gain momentum at any time - in 2009 Jenson Button won the championship based around the momentum he built up at the start of the season as Fernando Alonso did in 2006 when he won six out of the first nine races and likewise Ayrton Senna in 1991 by winning the first four races. On other occasions, momentum was gained in the middle of the year - take Alain Prost in 1990 or Nigel Mansell in 1991, who both took a hat-trick of victories to bring themselves into contention although they ultimately lost out to Ayrton Senna on both occasions. We don't need to look too far back for examples of momentum built towards the end of the season - in 2007 Kimi Raikkonnen won three out of the last four races to take the title, while Sebastian Vettel did the same in 2010.

The Japanese Grand Prix was a clear indicator that Red Bull and Vettel are looking very ominous for the rest of the year and Ferrari can no longer just defend and rely on Fernando's ruthless racing ability to win this championship. Two wins in a row, including the most dominant one of the season in Suzuka, and now heading to Korea where he won commandingly last year and should've won in 2010 but for an engine failure, all bodes well for Vettel to become the youngest ever triple world champion.

From the first free practice session it looked like the RBR cars were in a class of their own and it was pretty amazing to see Sebastian dish out best sectors whenever he seemingly wanted to - it all seemed a bit 2011 spec! Suzuka was the absolute nightmare result for Fernando and Ferrari. A non-finish with their main rival winning will put massive pressure on the Maranello squad. All through the practice sessions Fernando didn't look happy with the car and if anything Felipe looked like the more comfortable Ferrari driver. Come qualifying however, normal business was resumed and the Spanish star duly outqualified his team-mate, but in the race once again Felipe looked happy and confident with his car. He pushed when he needed to jump ahead of Kamui Kobayashi and Jenson and from there on was able to comfortable stay clear of them for his first podium in what must have felt like an eternity.

Is the championship slipping away from Fernando Alonso © Sutton Images

Despite the fact that F1 2012 has thrown us more curve balls than the baseball world series final, the championship looks like being a two-horse race from here on in. Lewis and Kimi are a long way back and unless both Fernando and Seb have two DNF's each, I can't see them getting back in the thick of it. What is clear, however, is that Lewis, Kimi, Mark, Jenson, Romain as well as the Mercedes, Sauber, Williams or Force India drivers could all influence the title battle dramatically by taking points away from the top two if indeed Seb or Fernando have a bad weekend.

The Saubers have looked very impressive all year but particularly since the summer break. There were plenty of sceptics out there at the start of the year who questioned (perhaps rightly so, given historic results) whether they'll be able to keep up their development rate through the season. The car has looked good on the faster, sweeping circuits like Spa and Suzuka and the next two races in Korea and India are of similar nature so expect them to be right up there.

As Fernando himself said, the next five races are like a mini championship between two exceptional drivers in two exceptional teams. The big challenge now is to see if Ferrari's upgrades are going to be enough to bring them back into contention for wins. There are some stories circulating about correlation problems with their wind tunnel, which is a problem they really don't need, not only for the next five races, but more importantly for the 2013 car. Red Bull in the meantime need to ensure that they have a clean run with no reliability issues or mistakes. The momentum is clearly with the team from Milton Keynes to take their third consecutive drivers' championship crown.