This season saw an interesting five-way title chase
Bravo, Formula One. This has indeed been a remarkable season, with the best slugfest in decades. We're traditionally used to seeing two racers duel for the title, or even long spells of one man domination, but this year thanks to new rules, a new scoring system, and all of F1s young talent apparently hitting puberty in unison has given us a bonafide five-way fight to the title. It has been an absolute thrill, and a very unpredictable ride.
So as we see this memorable photograph of the five 2010 contenders -- Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Sebastien Vettel -- we realise it's been over two decades since we had a prizefight this close.
In 1986 it was a close battle between Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Nigel Mansell and Nelson Piquet. Back then Alain Prost won by two points, and this year has belonged to the man sitting under a prophetic V sign, but the victory then and now has been ours, as we've been watching five drivers battle tooth and nail to make the championship a truly special one.
Here, then, is a look at the four men who ALMOST made it.
Image: Lewis Hamilton, Fernando Alonso, Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Sebastian Vettel at the Korean GP circuit
The Supporting Act
#5. Jenson Button (214 points, 2 wins)
Last year's surprise champion with Brawn GP came to McLaren under intense pressure, with even ardent admirers expecting him to crumble alongside Hamilton, McLaren's golden boy.
Yet Button started the season better than his teammate, picking up two victories in the first four races, and showing impressive restraint. His smooth driving style, decidedly cool under pressure, proved a great foil to Hamilton's forced aggressiveness, and Jenson managed to hold his own very well indeed.
That is, until the McLaren started fading. The McLaren challenger this year, while occasionally blindingly fast in a straight line, steadily dropped away in performance as the year went on, outclassed completely by the dominant Red Bull, and at the fag end of the season, struggling to match the eventually resurgent Ferrari.
Never once managing a pole position this season -- he got 4 last year with 6 wins -- Button seemed to stagnate as the season went on, becoming a valiant support driver but looked just as lackluster as his wheels. The lack of ability to drive a car out of its skin is something that will plague Button, especially when the other men at the forefront of the game all seem most capable of doing that.
Image: Jenson Button
The Suicide Bomber
#4. Lewis Hamilton (240 points, 3 wins)
As the British press never failed to remind us, Hamilton had more overtakes this season than anybody else -- well, with the possible exception of Kamui Kobayashi.
But unlike the exciting BMW Sauber driver who had nothing to lose, Hamilton battled at the forefront with absolutely everything at stake. It's been a season of some recklessness from Lewis -- with collisions in Australia (with Webber), Spain (with Vettel) and Singapore (with Webber), and several unforced excursions off the track -- and the driver has looked, more than anything else this season, desperate.
Yet that hunger made him one of the most exciting drivers to watch all season, dogfighting his way through the grid and not changing his racing style -- despite fines and slaps on the wrists, even warnings from the FIA, and much criticism in the press -- an iota. One of the most thrilling duels all season was in Turkey when, after the Red Bull drivers leading the race took each other out, Hamilton and Button fought each other with beautiful precision, finding the line but never once going over it.
Lewis has been defiantly fast this season, his style beginning to somewhat mirror that of much-missed Finn Kimi Raikkonen -- well, with an added dose of kamikaze. He has also, in the press, determinedly kept up a nice-guy face -- praising rivals generously, owning up to his own mistakes -- all year, working hard on his likability after initial years of being perceived as arrogant. Yet he rightfully leaves no room for that on the track, and it has admittedly been a treat to watch Lewis go bareknuckle all season, even when he shouldn't have.
Image: Lewis Hamilton
The 'Number Two'
#3. Mark Webber (242 points, 4 wins)
The Australian driver made his F1 debut in 2002 for the fledgling Minardi team, instantly impressing with a remarkable 5th place finish at his first race. The race being at Melbourne immediately made Mark an Aussie hero, and he has driven strongly and solidly since, never quite getting the car to prove his mettle, and frequently let down by unreliable machinery.
But this year's Red Bull was a thing of beauty, all gorgeous aerodynamics and monstrous speed, and Webber took to it with extreme grace -- as if he were made to race at the very front of the field. It was a display as rugged and solid as his superhero jawline, so much so that his employers -- who backed prodigious teammate Sebastien Vettel from the get-go -- were thrown off-balance, finding two top drivers instead of the clear one-two they'd bargained for.
In supreme miscalculation, they supported Vettel when the teammates crashed into each other in Turkey, and then took a new front wing off Webber's car and gave it to Seb, who crashed his in practice. The media rallied around Webber during this perceived injustice at the British Grand Prix, and as Webber doggedly took the victory, his celebrations were laced openly with sarcasm as he crowed into the pit radio: "Not bad for a number two driver."
From then on, Webber looked bulletproof as he led the title fight from the Turkish GP on May 30 right up to the Korean GP on 24 October, when both Red Bulls suffered debilitating failures. Racers considered better than him chipped away at his lead but he stayed persistently ahead, driving in a league he was deemed inferior for.
But after crashing out in Korea, the armour fell apart. It was a dramatic, against-all-odds performance, and deserves tremendous applause, but Webber couldn't sustain the underdog momentum he so significantly created.
If only the season was shorter, the 34-year-old must surely wonder, if only.
Image: Mark Webber
#2. Fernando Alonso (252 points, 5 wins)
The two-time world champion Spaniard is one of the sport's most complete drivers: he's crazy fast, as restrained as he needs to be, hardly ever makes unforced errors, and can soak up the pressure like some miracle sponge. And in current Formula One, the scorching scarlet blur of his car might be the least desirable sight in a rear view mirror. Because Fernando Alonso, quite simply, does not fold.
He also knows exactly when to pile on the pressure, when to go for -- and when to ease pressure on -- the jugular, and is more than aware of his own invincibility. It is also something he seems to need written into his contract. Outclassed at McLaren by Hamilton in the Brit's debut year, the Spaniard's biggest criticism is his inability to match a truly competitive teammate: a concern that was nullified at Ferrari this year as Felipe Massa, like former teammate Michael Schumacher, just couldn't get enough out of the tyres.
And so -- bolstered by a blatant Ferrari team order that made Massa move over to give Fernando the win in Germany --Fernando grew stronger and stronger at Ferrari, finding his stronghold and peaking at just the right time. Three of his wins came in the last six races, and he went to Abu Dhabi eight points ahead of Mark Webber and fifteen points ahead of Mark Webber. All he needed to do to win his third world title was finish second in the year's last race.
Which is when both he and the team choked. Ferrari, reacting to an early Webber pitstop, brought him in too soon and released him to heavy traffic, but the team wasn't the only culprit. Fernando was crucially overtaken in the very first corner by Button, and later spent nearly 40 laps unable to pass the Renault of Vitaly Petrov. In the end, on that final Sunday, as he whinged and gestured angrily at young Petrov, Fernando looked anything but a champion.
Image: Fernando Alonso