Until very recently, Spaniard Alonso was the overwhelming title favourite
The final five races of the 2012 season will likely stage a head-to-head contest between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, with the protagonists each pushing to add a prestigious third crown to their tallies.
Mathematically, however, there are plenty of contenders still in the running, including Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and even the beleaguered Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa.
But Bild newspaper confidently predicts German Vettel “will be world champion” after he won so dominantly from pole at Suzuka, with Alonso’s Ferrari stranded in the first-corner dirt trap.
Until very recently, Spaniard Alonso was the overwhelming title favourite, causing Austria’s Kleine Zeitung to muse after Japan that Suzuka was “The great turning point” in the 2012 battle.
Some think it is not Alonso’s bad luck that is the major factor, but Red Bull’s latest – and until now low-profile – Adrian Newey-penned aerodynamic development.
The new ‘double DRS’ has undoubtedly been a factor as Vettel overcame McLaren’s recent dominance with wins in Singapore and now Japan.
So will Ferrari and McLaren have to rush out copies now?
“You don’t develop something like that overnight,” Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport quotes Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali as saying.
McLaren’s Martin Whitmarsh adds: “It’s not a good idea to panic.”
But the Briton admitted McLaren has a double-DRS “project” on the back-burner.
Former F1 engineer and manager Joan Villadelprat wrote in Spain’s El Pais newspaper: “Less than a month ago nobody would have bet on Red Bull in this championship.
“But Ferrari cannot give up because they have the means to develop until the very last race, despite the problems they’re having in the wind tunnel.
“And they have an extraordinary driver in Fernando Alonso, who even after two retirements is still able to aspire for the title with only five races to go.”
Alonso, however, is clearly frustrated that a title he once seemed destined to secure is now dwindling.
“For six races,” he told Spanish reporters after retiring in Suzuka, “we have had the same car, without a single new piece.
“Felipe (Massa) did a perfect race, driving well, but I see his second place as a little coincidental. There were people with much faster cars, making mistakes and going off the track one after another.”
Domenicali is quoted by Brazil’s O Estado de S.Paulo: “I can fully understand his frustration right now.
“But you all can be assured that we are working hard to give Fernando a car with which he can express his talent.”
But German commentator Christian Danner said: “Red Bull has made such a big jump, and now have such an incredibly good car, that I can hardly imagine Ferrari challenging them now.”