No room for error in Belgium as F1 title comes down to Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari
SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS, Belgium – Formula One's championship has arrived at the Belgian Grand Prix with favorites Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari knowing there is no room for error in the title race with only seven races left.
Mark Webber of Red Bull leads the drivers' standings with 161 points — four ahead of McLaren's Lewis Hamilton while Sebastian Vettel is third for Red Bull with 151 points. Jenson Button of McLaren is fourth in front of Ferrari's Fernando Alonso, who trails Webber by 20 points.
Webber is keen to maximize Red Bull's potential at a track not quite suited for its car, and with most of the front-runners believing the championship fight between the big three was starting from zero at Spa.
Red Bull has been the season-long pacesetter — qualifying fastest in all but one of 12 races — but hasn't always turned that into points, something both Webber and Vettel knew needs improvement.
"Finishing is certainly something that is important," Webber said Thursday. "You have to capitalize on those days when you're not winning because any points are better than none."
While Webber leads the field with four victories this season, Vettel has taken the pole in four straight GPs — and has a season-high seven — but has only managed one victory in that span.
"Would've, could've, should've — it's all fine but at the end of day all that matters are the points you have on the scoreboard," Vettel said. "Yes, you can argue we should have scored more points but other teams and drivers did too. We are where we are and (now) every single (point) is more important."
Button has no doubts about McLaren's chances Sunday at the high-speed, low-downforce Spa circuit after the team's worst performance of the season in Budapest.
"I can't see any reason why we can't win it," said the world champion, who was also encouraged by governing body FIA's decision to implement extra testing on front wings, which have reportedly given Red Bull and Ferrari some advantage.
Ferrari's impressive record could stand in the way as Kimi Raikkonen's victory last year made it three straight and five of the last seven.
"We all start from zero. It's a seven-race championship," said Alonso, who pegged Red Bull as the team to beat again. "It's very tough competition but we have the expectation of fighting for the championship to the limit. There's no reason to be pessimistic."
While both Red Bull and McLaren drivers are still in the thick of the title race, Alonso can likely expect full backing from his Italian team since teammate Felipe Massa is further out of the championship picture in sixth — 64 points behind Webber.
"It's a nice position for Fernando to have. If he's following his teammate he might get some relief," Webber said. "That's a nice little feather in his cap that might help him a little bit."
While the top three steer another title fight that appears set to go to the finish, the rest of the teams have already started turning their attentions to developing the 2011 car, including Mercedes.
The Germans are already starting on the back foot as Michael Schumacher will be penalized 10 places after Saturday's qualifying for "illegally impeding" Rubens Barrichello in Hungary. Schumacher nearly forced his former Ferrari teammate into a concrete wall at high speed.
While Schumacher again apologized to Barrichello, the seven-time F1 champion was relishing his return to Spa where he won his first of a record 91 races and has triumphed six times.
"I've often called it my living room and there's lots of fantastic memories from the past and even some to look forward with the mixed weather prediction this weekend," Schumacher said. "Naturally we want to still take as many points as possible to stay up in the constructors' (standings)."
Williams driver Barrichello, meanwhile, will be driving in a record 300th race.
Practice starts Friday when rain and cold weather are expected to set the trend for the weekend.