Formula One: It's still anyone's Drivers Championship

After the fifth race of the 2012 season, the championship table makes for interesting reading... 

Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso are tied at the top of the drivers’ standings with 61 points each and 375 remaining to be won. With the chasing pack of Lewis Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen, Mark Webber, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg covered by 20 points – less than the value of a win – the year is shaping up to be another down-to-the-wire thriller. 

It has much in common with the 2010 season, where the lead in the title race changed almost every weekend. That championship holds an important lesson for those in the hunt this year: it’s as much about the points you don’t lose as the points you win.

McLaren’s mistakes

The McLaren pair must be staring at that championship table and wondering how they’re not top of it. On three of the five race weekends so far they’ve turned up with the fastest car, yet have just a single win between them to show for it.

Take Lewis Hamilton. He should have started every race this year from the front row. But in China a gearbox problem relegated him to seventh. Worse, last weekend he started last instead of first when the team failed to put enough fuel in his car.

If the team had told him to pull over when they realised their mistake he could still have started inside the top ten. As it was, he came to a halt on his way back to the pits and was sent to the back of the grid. What might have been a podium finish or better ended up as four points for eighth. McLaren have thrown more points away for both their drivers with a series of errors in the pits.

Although they’ve vowed to get on top of the problem there was another gaffe during Sunday’s race – Hamilton’s discarded left-rear wheel was left in the path of his car and he clipped it as he left his pit box, losing vital seconds. In this ultra-close season a tiny mistake like that can lead to lost points – Hamilton crossed the finishing line two-tenths of a second behind Rosberg.

They aren’t the only ones who’ve thrown away points. Vettel clipped a backmarker in Malaysia, ruining his race, and picked up a penalty for going too quickly past yellow flags in Spain. Rosberg has compromised his qualifying position more than once with errors on his hot-laps. But one driver has steered clear of trouble and is increasingly looking likely to reap the rewards.


Alonso’s damage limitaiton

Fernando Alonso has brought home points in every race so far - the only other driver to have done that is Hamilton. Despite having started the season with an ill-handling car, he’s led more laps than anyone else. He scored an opportunistic win in Malaysia, and aside from on off-track moment in China has seldom made a mistake worth of the name. 

Now Ferrari are beginning to make progress with their car, the others need to beware. They may have already failed to capitalise on their best chance to put some distance between themselves and one of F1’s most relentlessly competitive drivers. Alonso’s price for winning the title was 15.0 – it’s now down to 4.0. That’s still longer than Vettel (3.0) and Hamilton (3.25). But that it’s fallen to this level, despite the Ferrari not being at the same level as the McLaren and Red Bull in the opening races, is a reflection of the fact that Alonso has been scoring points while the rest have been squandering them.


Keith Collantine is the editor of Formula One blog F1 Fanatic.