The dramatic turn of events in Sunday's Korean Grand Prix now appear to call for both Red Bull Racing and McLaren to throw their weight behind their best-placed candidate for the 2010 F1 world championship - but neither was forthcoming with confirmation immediately after the race in Yeongam.
Fernando Alonso's victory, Lewis Hamilton's second place and a rare double DNF for Red Bull saw the Spaniard take over at the top of the table, with an eleven-point cushion over Mark Webber, who saw his future role swing from title favourite to potential back-up to team-mate Sebastian Vettel and back to RBR frontrunner in the space of 27 laps. Hamilton, meanwhile, took advantage of Vettel's late engine failure to leap-frog the German into third place overall, albeit 21 points adrift of Alonso.
Asked immediately after the race whether Red Bull would now back Webber's bid for the title, team boss Christian Horner seemed reluctant to rule Vettel out of contention, but appeared to have softened his view later in the evening.
"I haven't had time to look at all the mathematics and scenarios, but it's something that obviously we will look at pretty closely between now and Brazil," Horner told Reuters
, "Obviously, the objective for both [drivers] is to be ahead of Fernando and Lewis [Hamilton]."
Alonso has no concern about the backing he will receive from his team, having been thrust firmly into the favourite role at the German Grand Prix, but also by comfortably out-scoring team-mate Felipe Massa over the course of the year, while Hamilton now appears certain to receive the unqualified backing of McLaren, even though initial comments from the Woking team appeared to suggest a similar line to RBR whilst Button was still in mathematical contention.
The reigning champion dismissed his chances immediately after the Korean race, but later claimed that his comments had been made in the heat of the moment and insisted that he would continue to fight his cause until he could no longer amass the points he needed to repeat as number one.
"Mathematically, it's not impossible for Jenson, but it looks quite tough, very difficult for him," McLaren principal Martin Whitmarsh admitted after the Briton fell twice as far behind Alonso as team-mate Hamilton, "We'll talk about that before we get to Brazil."
While it may outwardly insist that the constructors' crown - where it continues to lead McLaren by 27 points - is as important as the individual title, Red Bull needs to seriously consider its options before allowing Vettel to race Webber at Interlagos, especially as the Australian has now slipped behind Alonso in terms of race wins. The Spaniard's success in Korea lifted his season's tally to five, one ahead of Webber, and two clear of Vettel and Hamilton. Button has won two races, but not visited the top step of the podium since round four in China.
Should Vettel be allowed to race Webber, and take victory in both Brazil and Abu Dhabi, even second places would not be enough for the Australian to overhaul Alonso if the Ferrari man completes the podium. If Webber takes the two races, however, third places for Alonso would no longer be enough to keep the Red Bull at bay.