Tony Jardine: Brazilian GP preview
Tony Jardine looks ahead to the Brazilian Grand Prix and he reckons Fernando Alonso can make a late swoop for the title.
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Rain is forecast for Sunday in Sao Paulo for what should be a tremendous final race of the season.
I said last week the championship would go down to the wire with Lewis Hamilton the fly in the ointment, Sebastian Vettel finishing second and Fernando Alonso keeping his championship hopes alive with third place, and that's exactly how it played out.
Now I would like you to follow my logic and take an outside chance on Alonso snatching the world title from Red Bull's grasp. It is Vettel's title to lose and Ferrari have everything to gain, but I make no bones about it, this is a Red Bull circuit.
Mark Webber has won here twice and Sebastian led an impressive team one two finish in 2010 to seal their first World Constructors Championship. I would love them to win but how can you ignore the persistence of Fernando?
And yet the track has been the graveyard of championship hopes just as much it has seen the triumphs. Alonso knows how to deal with pressure and exert it. He clinched both his titles here in 2005 and 2006 defeating Michael Schumacher who was his only threat but the German punctured early in the race fighting back to a spectacular fourth from near last place.
Hamilton was on the cusp of his first championship in 2007 which would have been sensational in his debut year but gearbox gremlins cast their spell allowing Kimi Raikkonen's Ferrari, which had been seventeen points adrift a couple of races out, to steal the crown from the young pretender by just one point.
Hamilton had everyone on edge of their seats in the UK when in the following year he won the championship by a slender one point as he sliced past a scrabbling Timo Glock on the last corner of the last lap to seal it with fifth place.
Felipe Massa and his family celebrated prematurely believing the Brazilian was champion, the utter dejection on their faces as moments later they were told Hamilton had secured it showed how cruel this venue can be. Rain had played a part again.
You can stand on the hill of Interlagos and watch the tropical rain come in over Sao Paulo but even without it this is a classic 70s track that plunges and then rises over a blind crest to the sweeping finish of the lap, lined by concrete walls and limited run off areas.
This place has a much bigger risk factor than most and in 2003 Webber smashed his Jaguar to pieces over that same blind crest with Alonso's Renault then following suit as he hit the wreckage. Expect the unexpected.
In fact the rain of 2003 was a tropical deluge that produced rivers of water running down the track, world champions Schumacher and Button were just two who slid helplessly off into the unyielding barriers and after all the dramas of the race Giancarlo Fisichella's Jordan won against the odds and then promptly caught fire!
Alonso and Vettel know they are to do battle in this cauldron of risk. Red Bull whilst the quickest have the added mechanical issue to concern them after a third alternator failure of the season stopped Webber in Austin.
Alonso was quick to seize on that after Texas saying "maybe it will happen to Vettel's car next time" whilst the brilliant Red Bull designer Adrian Newey described them as an old batch of parts which had been around too long and were in fact a "ticking time bomb". So I hope you can see why I think Alonso, even as the outsider is a brave bet worth making in this environment.
Here is how it could play out if just some of the elements play their hand. I have an on-form Hamilton as outright winner as Vettel will probably be driving carefully for a finish (fourth is enough) with Interlagos specialist Webber second from pole position.
Alonso could again drag the Ferrari onto the podium and I have Raikkonen, Massa and Nico Hulkenburg (who got pole here in 2010) rounding out the top six. The rest of my top ten is Sergio Perez, Pstor Maldonado, Bruno Senna and then Vettel on a single point which would not be enough.
Of course this scenario needs rain, alternator failures, accidents and safety cars, punctures or errant back markers to spoil the Red Bull plan but many of them have happened at Interlagos.
Red Bull are the favourites, they have been superb from the start of Asia onwards and they deserve their hard won success but Alonso equally deserves his chance after demonstrating incredible motivation and pure driving skill.
If you want to play safe go with Vettel.
If you want to take a chance go with me on Alonso. Good luck and enjoy what should be a tantalising contest.