x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Red faces at Red Bull if pair miss out on title

If a Red Bull-Renault driver is not world champion following next week's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it will be a major embarrassment for the team.

Considering the raw pace of Red Bull’s chassis it is surprising to have a scenario where Mark Webber, left, is 11 points behind Fernando Alonso in the standings and Sebastian Vettel, right, is 25 points behind. Don Emmert / AFP
Considering the raw pace of Red Bull’s chassis it is surprising to have a scenario where Mark Webber, left, is 11 points behind Fernando Alonso in the standings and Sebastian Vettel, right, is 25 points behind. Don Emmert / AFP

If a Red Bull-Renault driver is not world champion following next week's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, it will be a major embarrassment for the team.

They have had the fastest car this season and it is amazing that one of their drivers is not leading the championship with just two races to go.

Fernando Alonso has done a fantastic job in his Ferrari to have come from 47 points down to now be in a position to become champion for a third time if he wins this weekend and Mark Webber fails to finish in the top four.

Considering the raw pace of the Red Bull chassis it is hard to fathom how we have reached a scenario where Webber is 11 points behind Alonso in the standings and Sebastian Vettel is 25 points behind.

Red Bull arguably had the fastest car last year and failed to win either championship. If they fail to win anything again this year there are likely to be ructions back in Austria - although they are looking good for the constructors' title, leading McLaren-Mercedes by 27 points.

Mechanical unreliability, driver error and misfortune have hit the team's title aspirations.

Having said that, Red Bull are still the quickest car in the field, and I expect them to go well in both Brazil and in Abu Dhabi.

Webber can still be champion if he wins the final two races, and that is a possibility. But I think the team need to rally round make him the No 1 driver if he is to do that.

Vettel still has a chance to be champion, but unlike Webber, he is not in charge of his own destiny.

Christian Horner, Red Bull's team principal, has said the team are not going to favour Webber. That's an a odd decision. It is noble and sporting yes, but in motorsport you are judged on results and championship.

You can guarantee that Alonso will have Felipe Massa driving for him in Sunday's race, despite the fact it is Massa's home race.

The Brazilian goes well at Interlagos. He won there in 2006 and 2008, and gave up a certain win in 2007 to allow his then Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen to win and claim the world title.

Alonso has been quicker than Massa for most of the season, the Germany team orders incident apart, and even though I think he has been closer to his teammate recently, I cannot see him being quicker than him in Interlagos.

But where Massa can come in useful is racing for Alonso, altering his race strategy to help him threaten Alonso's championship rivals, and possibly take points off them.

Red Bull are going to allow their drivers to continue to race against each other, and it is a decision that could easily leave them with nothing.

It may be hard on Vettel, who certainly in the last few races has been the quicker driver, but he is contracted to a team and it is part of his role, if asked, to help them get the best result they can.

What Ferrari did in Germany, moving Alonso past Massa, was done in a messy fashion and was not handled well, but if Alonso does take the championship, and achieves it by a margin of less than seven points then it was the right decision.

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Interlagos is a great race to have in the championship run in as it is a demanding track with three or four overtaking opportunities.

In 1993 I had a great battle with Michael Schumacher when I was driving for Lotus. He got past me on the back straight, but I was able to sit it out with him under braking and retake the position, before he eventually got me in his Benetton on the main straight.

You can go wheel to wheel with other drivers, and I think that it is why it is such a popular circuit. It used to be very bumpy in my day, but the track has smoothed out a lot over the years and is nowhere near as tough on the driver as it once was.

The one unpredictable element is the weather. It can be glorious sunshine one minute, torrential rain the next.

The worst bit for the drivers is that Turn One down to Turn Three is downhill and a river of water will start to run across the track, leading to the serious risk of aquaplaning.

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I will be up close and personal to the action this weekend as I serve as the drivers' representative on the panel of race stewards in Brazil. I have already done the role twice already in Malaysia and in Turkey, and enjoyed it on both occasions.

My role will be offer insight to the stewards when any accidents, crashes, incidents or violations are brought forward to be viewed to see if any punishment or further action should be taken against drivers or teams.

 

Johnny Herbert is a former F1 driver who won three races. His column is written with the assistance of staff writer Graham Caygill

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