Formula One: Vettel a whisker away from glory
Published 26/09/2011 | 10:37
So the title 'race', if you can still call it that, goes on to Japan, the scene of so many famous denouements in Formula One championship history. This one does not threaten to pack the same dramatic punch, though it will be thoroughly well deserved when it happens.
Sebastian Vettel needs just one point at Suzuka to be sure of completing the job after yet another demonstration in the art of 'leading from the front' under the Singapore floodlights last night.
As if Vettel's supremacy this year was not already obvious enough, the Red Bull driver managed for the first time in his career to lead for every single lap of a race, including during the pit stops when the race order usually undergoes a temporary reshuffle.
That Vettel cannot yet lay claim to his second title was down to an equally impressive drive from McLaren's Jenson Button, who shrugged off a stomach upset which saw him lose 1.5kgs in body weight to finish second at the notoriously punishing Marina Bay Circuit.
With Mark Webber third and Fernando Alonso fourth, only Button can now mathematically stop Vettel, although he would need to win all five of the season's remaining races without Vettel claiming a point.
Still, if this season is now about pride for him, then he can certainly look back on this race with a measure of it. Thanks to a safety car -- the result of a spectacular crash involving Mercedes' Michael Schumacher -- Button even threatened to catch Vettel.
A lead which at one stage had been around 30 seconds was reduced to 3.7 seconds with three laps remaining. However, Button encountered traffic in the shape of two sparring Williams cars and was not able to push on. "It was frustrating," Button said. "I understand it's difficult to move over but they have to respect cars fighting for higher positions."
Button admitted, though, he was unlikely to have caught Vettel who only fell back because he encountered the same traffic and because his Red Bull team had turned down his engine as a precaution once they were confident of victory.
That is to take nothing away from Button whose current form -- only Vettel has outscored him in the second half of the season -- may well be one of the factors unsettling team-mate Lewis Hamilton.
Hamilton had another difficult day, dropping from third to seventh off the start line before a needless collision with Ferrari's Felipe Massa saw him pick up a drive-through penalty, which dropped him back to 19th. Showing characteristic fight, Hamilton battled back superbly to finish fifth.
Meanwhile, Hamilton's father and former manager, Anthony, has accused the driver's management company, XIX Entertainment, of failing to support his son adequately after he became embroiled in yet another controversy.
Hamilton left the track without completing his media duties after a row with Massa in the post-race media pen, which was captured on Dutch television and replayed on the BBC's post-race coverage. No one from XIX Entertainment was present in Singapore and Hamilton Snr said that Formula One drivers need someone "personally involved" in their lives who they can turn to for advice in such situations.
"You look up and down the pit lane and every driver, except for Lewis, has a driver-manager in his life, not people from a company," he said. "I am sure his management are very good -- I don't know -- but Formula One drivers need people personally involved in the driver's lives because it is a big pressure.
"They have got to be here and I don't think you can do the job by sending someone else. I don't know any other driver-manager who sends someone else to do the job. You sign up a Formula One driver, so come and do your job."
Afterwards a furious Massa, who suffered a puncture as a result of the collision and finished ninth, grabbed Hamilton by the shoulder and, giving a sarcastic thumbs-up, said: "Good job, man, well done".
Hamilton, who recovered from the penalty to finish fifth, spun around and appeared to snap back: "Don't touch me, man."
The pair, who scrapped so memorably for the 2008 drivers' championship in which Hamilton prevailed by a point, have been involved in a series of scuffles this year.
In truth, though, they were all chasing shadows under the lights as Vettel moved within a whisker of the grand prize.
Asked how he felt to be within touching distance, the famously superstitious German gave a wonderfully straight response.
"Statistically the chances are on our side," he said. The man is a machine. (© Daily Telegraph, London)