x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Vettel dominance opens up battle

Amid the qualifying chaos and numerous crashes during the Japanese Grand Prix, one man's complete domination stood out. Red Bull's Sebastien Vettel was sublime.

Amid the qualifying chaos and numerous crashes during the Japanese Grand Prix, one man's complete domination stood out. Red Bull's Sebastien Vettel was sublime. With two races to go, the German has turned the championship in a totally different direction. No one expected a Red Bull comeback. But Vettel's win has put the pressure firmly back on championship leader Jenson Button.

Button retains a points advantage. He will also take heart from the fact no one challenger is consistently stepping up and scoring points to really threaten him. Vettel has been here before, and faded. Button's Brawn GP teammate, Rubens Barrichello - with two wins in succession - looked like the Briton's primary title rival. Then he too failed to capitalise. Everyone, from McLaren, Ferrari and Brawn, to Red Bull, Force India, Toyota and BMW seem capable of taking points at the moment.

We are set for one of the most competitive races in Brazil and - if that results goes right - one of the closest ends to a season ever. Barrichello will be strong at home. There will be a big buzz for him and he will be very up for it. He needs a win and he has a strong chance - if he can solve the issues he has faced in the last few races. I also expect the Red Bulls to be quick again. Vettel must win and we could well relive a similar situation to last year.

I think the championship will go down to the wire - only a Button win can prevent it. There are plenty of other winners out there though: Hamilton, Raikkonen, Trulli...the list goes on and on! Button will be thankful for that. Everyone is nicking points off each other and his prolonged dip in form is yet to be punished. His speed is up and down. For every Monza and a second place finish, there is a Hungary where he was lucky to get seventh spot. He needs stability and points.

In truth, he was lucky to get any in Japan. Only the incident between Heikki Kovaleinan and Adrian Sutil pushed him into the top eight. I do not know why he cannot even beat his teammate Barrichello at the moment - it must be the pressure getting to him. He is crumbling and it is a horrible situation to watch unfold. He was extremely fortunate this weekend. In fact, a lot of drivers were. If you believe some experts, Suzuka bared its fangs. I do not believe that to be the case. I raced at Sukuza many times and it is a classic track. It is fantastic; a firm favourite of Lewis Hamilton's too. For me, it is right up there with Silverstone and Spa.

But it is also old. In a good way. In my view, modern drivers have got to used to modern tracks' run-off areas. They have forgotten that the race take place between the white lines. The safety element of the run-offs cannot be ignored, and even Suzuka has been updated to meet new regulations. But the drivers, instead of being wary of the skills needed to navigate the track, are over driving. They are too far over the limit and pushing way too hard on what is a proper race track. Their mindsets are off. You cannot get away with mistakes at Suzuka.

The situation for Button, in the two races which will determine whether he wins a maiden championship is very similar. Sadly, people are questioning whether he deserves the championship after such a lengthy lull. But his lean patch has not been taken advantage of by his competitors. He cannot be blamed for that. Button needs to rediscover the winning feeling. If he does, in either Brazil or Abu Dhabi, no one will be able to begrudge him his glory.

sports@thenational.ae