The race for this year's F1 world championship crown is as good as over, according to three-time title-winner Niki Lauda, who has advised those chasing Fernando Alonso to temper their expectations.
Speaking to Austria's Osterreich
newspaper, Lauda has pointed to Alonso's superior finishing record compared to main rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel as a reason why the Spaniard should be considered the champion-elect for 2012, despite just 37 points separating the Ferrari driver from Hamilton. Kimi Raikkonen is just a single point further back, with Vettel having slipped to fourth after being forced out of the Italian Grand Prix with another alternator failure on his Red Bull entry. Team-mate Mark Webber and McLaren's Jenson Button are already moving into the 'outsider' category following a mix of poor results and poor fortune in recent races.
Alonso has posted just one DNF in more than 20 races, stretching back into 2011, and that was as a result of being caught up in the Romain Grosjean-inspired mayhem at Spa, but bounced back with an unlikely podium finish in front of the tifosi
at Monza two weekends ago. Vettel, meanwhile, succumbed to a similar problem to the one which knock him out of the running for victory in Valencia back in June.
"Alonso is clearly on course for the title, Ferrari is very consistent," Lauda commented, "These quality problems have cost Vettel the title. An error can occur, but it needs to be fixed immediately and must not occur again. Theoretically, the championship is not lost for Vettel but, in practice....."
Although Vettel is just 39 points behind Alonso in the standings, the Spaniard is not confident that he can hold off the German or any of the other contenders simply by getting his car to the chequered flag at the seven 'flyaway' events that remain on the schedule.
"Managing this points gap is going to be hard, because I think everyone is going to be on the attack," he admitted to the Spanish media over the weekend, "The whole situation can change in one race if it goes wrong. So we have to keep developing, working hard, trying to win races. We can't be thinking about being fourth or fifth, or doing podiums, or how to manage [the points gap] - we have to be thinking of winning races. [Being ahead by] 37 points is nothing."