Pit Stop

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 October, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 October, 2009, 12:00am

It's back-to-the-future time in Formula One. This weekend the circus rolls into the Suzuka circuit in Japan for the first time since 1996. Off the track, the end-of-term feeling with four races to go is underlined by the horse trading in drivers, with one returning to familiar pastures.

This weekend should finally see the official unveiling of Fernando Alonso as a Ferrari driver next year. What a mouth-watering prospect that is. The last three years have been a big blip on a stellar career. After back-to-back world titles he stepped into his own personal nightmare at McLaren, only to find refuge in a Renault team that had lost its mojo.

Ferrari won't be as poor next season as they were this. There isn't the sea change in rules to catch them out. There's no title race this season to distract them. The chemistry between the team and the driver should be explosive in a positive way, something that will delight Ferrari fans after a lean year. It will be interesting to see how he gets on with Felipe Massa, who will not accept any suggestion he's Alonso's number two.

If reports are correct, Kimi Raikkonen will be headed back to McLaren. It's a canny move by the British team. The Finn is a bit of an enigma. World champion one year, seemingly not bothered the next, perhaps Ferrari post-Schumacher became a bit of a strain for a man who likes to party.

I reckon he will do well next year if he returns to McLaren. He was always fast for the team in his first spell; the problem then was that the machinery was speedy but particularly unreliable. McLaren, like Ferrari, have improved in leaps and bounds as this season has progressed. If they are back on the money next year it will be interesting to see how Hamilton deals with serious in-garage competition again.

Of course, this season is far from done and dusted, and you wouldn't bet against a few more astonishing twists and turns as we head to the last race in Abu Dhabi. But the championship race became a bit clearer after the weekend's events in Singapore. Jenson Button can probably discount the threat posed by the Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel after a less than memorable race for the pair.

Button's only real threat comes from the other side of the Brawn garage. Rubens Barrichello has three races to find the luck that has often eluded him this season. Fifteen points behind, he needs to find five more points a race than his rival to break Button's heart, and that is a big ask. After so many years as Michael Schumacher's lapdog, then a few more thrashing the terrible Honda around lap after lap, this has been a great season for the veteran.

It could also be his last, as paddock rumour has Nico Rosberg heading to Brawn next season. Only the hardest of hearts would begrudge the grinning Brazilian a fairy-tale farewell from the sport he has loved and enlivened for the past 16 years.

More likely it will be a Brit and not a Brazilian claiming a maiden world championship. Button stunned the motor racing world with his start to the 2009 season. Six wins in the first seven races made it look like a Usain Bolt sprint to the line, miles ahead of the competition. The second half of the season has looked more like a crawl.

There's only been one podium in the subsequent seven races and Button has garnered a lot of criticism as the season has progressed. His temperament when faced with underperforming machinery has always been a concern.

Momentum was always going to be hard to maintain when the big boys got over the shock and threw some money at their problems. McLaren, in particular, have made huge strides, and Button always knew he was going to have to scrap hard later in the season.

He's shown enough desire when the going got tough and always shown enough tenacity to be there or thereabouts. After his early-season heroics he hasn't needed to do any more than that. It may not be enough to please the purists, but Button knows this may be the only chance he ever gets to be world champion. If he is to wear the crown, now is the time.