Can Red Bull’s Vettel drive it home?

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IOL mot pic nov1 F1 mo vettel and alonso Reuters It looks like the title fight is down to Ferrari driver Fernando Alonso, left, and Red Bulls Sebastian Vettel. Vettel is currently in the lead and looking to close the deal.

The showdown between Formula One’s two top drivers continues at the Yas Marina circuit this Sunday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The race is the season’s only twilight event with the race getting underway at 5pm (3pm South African time).

With four consecutive wins under his belt and a 13-point lead over title rival Fernando Alonso with three rounds to go, reigning double champion Sebastian Vettel seems to have a clear path to becoming the sport’s youngest-ever triple world champion. The unpredictability of the early season, which saw seven different drivers victorious in the first seven races, seems a thing of the distant past as the latter part of the year has turned into a distinct two-horse race.

Vettel and his Red Bull have really found their groove in the latter part of the year. It’s the first time that Vettel has won four races in a row in a single season, another milestone in the German’s sparkling career which also includes youngest champion and double champion (2010 and 2011), most pole positions in a season (15 in 2011), most laps led in a season (739 in 2011), the youngest driver ever to score points in F1 (age 19 in the 2007 US Grand Prix), and youngest Grand Prix winner (age 21 in the 2008 Italian Grand Prix, in a Toro Rosso).

Red Bull attributes no “silver bullet” to its recent upturn in pace.

“It’s been a pure case of working hard to understand these tyres and the regulation changes and the team’s done a super job in achieving that,” said team principal Christian Horner, whose team could clinch the Constructors’ title for the third year in a row on Sunday.

For his part Alonso, who lost his long-held championship lead two races ago, has kept his title hopes alive with regular podium appearances due to solid driving and a little luck. The latter played a factor in last Sunday’s Indian Grand Prix where Mark Webber’s ailing Red Bull (with its Kers system working intermittently) allowed the Ferrari driver to steal second place in the closing stages.

Alonso, in competition with Vettel for the acclaim of becoming F1’s youngest triple champion, is far from defeated and said this week he remained “100 percent convinced” that he would win the title.

Mind games maybe, but one thing the dogged Spaniard can never be accused of is giving up, and Vettel’s had to bring his A-game to stay ahead of his Ferrari rival.

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali believes Red Bull has a better car but that doesn’t mean the championship is a lost cause.

“We need to work hard. Full stop.”

By saying they are stronger doesn’t mean we change our approach,” he said.

Vettel is on 240 points to Alonso’s 227 and, although there are mathematically other drivers still in the title hunt, realistically they’re in a battle for third place. Kimi Raikkonen still holds that unlikely position in his Lotus on 173 points, due to astonishing consistency which has seen him finish all but one of this year’s 17 races in the points, six of them on the podium.

Raikkonen, who came out of a two-year retirement this year, confirmed this week that he will drive for Lotus again next season. He is still chasing his first win since his return, but compared to seven-times champion Michael Schumacher, who has had one third place with Mercedes in the three years since he started his comeback and is retiring again next month, Raikkonen has excelled.

Six points behind Raikkonen in the battle for third place is Red Bull’s Mark Webber, who has been unable to match his good early-season form and has been overshadowed by his team mate in the latter part of the year.

Lewis Hamilton in turn trails Webber by just two points, with his team mate Jenson Button a further 24 behind. McLaren’s title bid has all but evaporated following a strong mid-season surge. However it is still just ten points behind Ferrari in the constructors’ battle. - The Star

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