Sebastian Vettel should be going into this weekend's Korean Grand Prix on the verge of clinching the world championship.
Instead a combination of unreliability and a few disastrous mistakes at the wheel mean he's trailing championship leader Mark Webber with three races to go.
And with this year's championship so finely poised any further mistakes by driver or team in the final race could carry a high price.
The 'what if' world championship
The points table below was created using race finishing orders that were altered to remove drivers' mistakes or car failures.
For each race a new finishing order was created based on the original results but with drivers being credited for places or finishes lost due to mistakes or car failures.
For example, the finishing order for Bahrain became Vettel-Alonso-Massa-Hamilton, 'editing out' the exhaust failure that dropped Vettel from first to fourth in the real race.
Think of it like one of those science fiction programmes where the characters visit a parallel dimension. In this case one where racing drivers don't crash and their cars don't break down. Here's how the championship might look:
|Position||Driver||Hypothetical points||Actual position and points|
|1||Sebastian Vettel||297||2nd, 206 points|
|2||Lewis Hamilton||238||4th, 192 points|
|3||Mark Webber||231||1st, 220 points|
|4||Fernando Alonso||227||2nd, 206 points|
|5||Jenson Button||175||5th, 189 points|
In some instances it's difficult to predict a likely scenario for what might have happened. For example, Alonso's failure to participate in qualifying in Monaco after his crash in final practice.
In those instances I've erred on the conservative side. See this Excel file for a complete list of the results used.
Where they lost their points
Using the same data as above we can work out how many points each driver lost – and how.
|Car failure||Driver error||Other|
Vettel has had the worst of both worlds. Car failures in the first two races alone cost him 35 points and two wins.
But he has made some high-profile mistakes as well: the crash with Webber in Istanbul, for example (but remember that just 24 hours earlier anti-roll bar failure in qualifying saw him start third instead of a likely first). Another tangle with Jenson Button at Spa cost him a podium finish.
The other driver who has been hit hard by unreliability is Lewis Hamilton : most recently with his gearbox problem in Suzuka, but also with no-scores in Spain and Hungary.
Alonso is in fine form at the moment, but mistakes earlier in the season at Shanghai, Monaco, Silverstone and Spa have taken a toll.
Webber and Button may not always have got the maximum performance from their cars but they are dependable points-scorers who have generally enjoyed much better reliability than their team mates have.
Racing incidents and plain bad luck are accounted for under the 'Other' column: whether it's getting stuck behind the safety car (Alonso, Valencia) or coming off worse while racing a rival (Button, Spa).
Classifying one collision as 'driver error' and another as a 'racing incident' is obviously highly subjective.
Again, I've tried to be as consistent as possible and erred on the conservative side – for example giving Alonso and Hamilton the benefit of the doubt over their collisions at Melbourne and Singapore respectively. You can examine the raw data here and if you disagree with any of the classifications please explain why in the comments.
The final races
Heading into the final three races of the year any further problems for the championship front runners are likely to be seen as 'the moment the title was lost'.
The more mundane truth is that championships are won or lost over a whole season's racing. Retiring from the lead of a race is no less costly in April than it is in October.
Vettel may have lost points through misfortune and mistakes but he's taken 14 points off Webber in the last three races. If he does the same over the final three we could have a very interesting championship table at the end of the year.
Work out the championship standings over the remaining races using the F1 Fanatic championship calculator
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