Formula One: Will Red Bull and Sebastian Vettel walk away with this year’s Championships?

Sebastian Vettel and team Red Bull seem to already be running away with the ChampionshipFollowing two stunning performances from Sebastian Vettel at the first two races of the season, that mean he heads to China this weekend having scored maximum points available, it seems that Vettel and his team look more than ready to defend their championships. But one wonders whether the in-season development of both the McLaren and Ferrari cars will lead to a tighter championship fight than it seems at the moment.

Red Bull headed into the 2011 season as hot favourites having won both the 2010 Driver’s and Constructor’s World Championships. Their good pace in testing only seemed to demonstrate to the other teams their plan to defend their championships and with McLaren seemingly too far off the pace, it appeared their only rival this year was going to be Ferrari.

But with the cancellation of the Bahrain Grand Prix all the teams had an extra two weeks to develop their cars in preparation for the first race in Australia. This extra time was capitalised on by McLaren, who turned their car around improving their times by nearly one second, and they found themselves in contention in Australia. But in the first practice session it was Red Bull who found themselves at the top of the timesheets with Mark Webber closely followed by his teammate Vettel. Ferrari finished third with Fernando Alonso and eleventh with Felipe Massa, Alonso clearly showing that they were very much on the pace of the Red Bulls. Meanwhile McLaren showed their improvement with Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton in sixth and seventh respectively.

In second practice there were smiles all round in the McLaren camp as Button topped the timesheets closely followed by his teammate but the other top teams were not far behind taking the next five places. Despite McLaren’s improvement it was business as usual in Free Practice three with the Red Bulls back on top but they were closely followed by the McLarens.

McLaren’s improvement since testing left them hopeful in qualifying but Vettel was on great form as always and stole pole from Hamilton by just under a second. His teammate Webber started the race in third alongside Button in forth. Ferrari couldn’t challenge Red Bull and Alonso started the race in fifth position with Massa qualifying a disappointing eighth. The race result was never really in doubt with Vettel taking the win closely followed by Hamilton. Alonso improved from fifth to fourth but Webber and Button both had disappointing races finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Although the race was won by Vettel and he took maximum points Ferrari’s two drivers set the fastest laps of the race undoubtedly eager to show their pace.

McLaren’s improvement between pre-season testing and the first race was a warning to Red Bull that they were not going to make this championship easy for them. In Free Practice one, two and three in Malaysia McLaren and Red Bull were evenly matched but Ferrari found themselves languishing behind with them even admitting their car being only capable of sixth and seventh in qualifying . In qualifying it was a case of deja vu with Vettel on pole, Hamilton in second, Webber in third and Button and Alonso in fourth and fifth respectively. However this time McLaren were much closer to Red Bull and looked capable of pole position but it wasn’t meant to be and the formidable force that is Sebastian Vettel struck again.

The race was a different story to qualifying although Vettel hung onto first position to win, Button made a good start and managed his tyres well to finish a deserved second place and Renault laid down the gauntlet finishing third for the second race weekend in a row and showing that they can’t be discounted from the Championship battle. Meanwhile Webber finished fourth in another disappointing weekend that saw his teammate move ever further away. But it was a very unsatisfactory weekend for Hamilton and Alonso who were reprimanded by the Stewards after the race and had twenty seconds added to their finishing times. This made no difference to Alonso who finished sixth and remained there but Hamilton lost his seventh place finish being demoted to eighth. Despite finishing fourth Webber set the fastest lap of the race showing that Red Bull really does have the pace over all the other teams.

Vettel’s dominant performance in both Australia and Malaysia has left no one in doubt that he intends to defend his title but he will need his teammate Webber’s help to ensure that the team can defend its Constructor’s title especially as McLaren and Ferrari are not that far behind. If Red Bull and Vettel can be competitive at the majority of the races this year and avoid the other top teams winning then they may just walk away with both titles before the battle has really begun. However it is a long season with plenty more races to come and the apparent closeness of the teams sure makes for an exciting season.

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