The scene is set for F1’s final, championship-deciding race in Brazil. In 24 hours either Sebastian Vettel or Fernando Alonso will have been crowned champion for the third time.
The die is almost cast, but not quite. The grid is set and both drivers know what they must do to secure the title. But there remains the vital question of what the weather is going to do. All weekend long the threat of wet conditions on race day has hung in the air, and even at this late stage it’s hard to say with certainty if it will rain and how much.
As anyone who’s watched F1 knows, this is a crucial variable. Wet races are treacherous and hard to predict. Alonso, the chaser, will relish the rain, as it will increase the risks and rewards. Vettel, the chased, would prefer a straightforward, dry race. For the motor racing fan who wants a thrilling end to the season it’s a blessing – and it opens up some opportunities if you fancy a punt as well.
The tension of the championship appears to be taking its toll on the contenders. For the first time this year both will start behind their team mates. Vettel made a mistake on his first lap in the top ten shootout and had to exercise caution on his final effort. Alonso, his team admitted, simply didn’t get as good a balance on his car as team mate Felipe Massa.
Hamilton takes last pole for McLaren
McLaren set the pace this weekend and Lewis Hamilton will start his final race for the team that gave him his F1 break in pole. Behind him Vettel starts fourth and Alonso seventh, having gained one place at the expense of Pastor Maldonado, who collected his tenth penalty of the season.
Hamilton is at 2.1 for the win but McLaren’s shoddy reliability this year and the unpredictability offered by a wet race gives plenty of reason to consider other options. Team mate Button starts second and has a sublime touch in mixed weather conditions making him keenly-priced at 4.5.
Third-placed Mark Webber has won this race twice in the last three years and offers odds of 9.0. And of course Alonso can never be discounted and even from seventh on the grid is worth considering at 10.0.
Nico Hulkenberg took pole position in his only previous race here in 2010. This year he starts sixth and is well placed to profit from a chaotic race. Odds of 18.0 for him to reach the podium are definitely worth a look.
The championship finale
Vettel is the strong favourite to clinch the title, available at odds of just 1.08. Alonso has said his best chance of winning it is if Vettel retires. Should that happen he stands a good chance of getting past Hulkenberg and, naturally, Massa. That would leave him one place shy of the third he needs to take the championship. It’s far from far-fetched, and if you think he can do it you can back him at 6.5.
Both drivers have driven superbly well this year and both have had their share of misfortune, such as Alonso’s first-lap retirement in Belgium and Vettel’s alternator failure while leading in Valencia.
The Brazilian Grand Prix looks set to be a fittingly exciting conclusion to an often thrilling year of racing. Whatever the race brings, let’s hope for a battle to the last lap and a fair fight.
Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.