Too early to crown Vettel as next king
Pity the remaining four circuits waiting to host a round of the Formula One championship. Pity particularly India, a country that has been waiting so long for its turn to take a bow on the F1 stage and which now faces hosting a 'dead rubber', to use a tennis term.
Sebastian Vettel is world champion once again with a fifth of the season still to go, and some are muttering about the odds of the 24-year-old bettering his compatriot Michael Schumacher's achievements over time. 'Bloody Germans,' Jenson Button quipped after the race at the Suzuka circuit.
With South Korea coming up this weekend, don't expect any let up from Red Bull. Vettel and the team have promised to use the final four races to explore the car and start preparing for next season. It's an ominous statement of intent from the champion.
While all the plaudits, the media attention and the autograph hunters have been focused on the engaging Vettel, don't forget the input that the rest of the team have had in the triumph. There's one man in particular who has been key to Red Bull's success, and that's their chief technical officer Adrian Newey.
'The brains of Milton Keynes' as he isn't very often known, brings a Midas touch to all he designs. He's already produced championship-winning cars for Williams and McLaren, so this current success will be nothing new. Other teams want him on board badly - Ferrari tried last year to get him to come to Maranello. But Newey seems happy to stay, extending his contract. He's said to be paid US$10 million a year, more than the majority of drivers.
Are we about to witness a long period of dominance in the sport, not unlike Schumacher and Ferrari? Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion, for one, isn't so sure. He feels that Vettel's unlikely to break Schumacher's record of seven titles. Hill's argument is that the sport is a lot more competitive now and that until Vettel is forced to scrap in a tight championship in a car that doesn't have an inbuilt advantage, we won't know just how good he is. Remember also that Vettel only came in third over the weekend in Japan. The winner of that particular scrap was Jenson Button, whose form has soared as the season has progressed. Finally, his car is good enough to back him up.
As his teammate Lewis Hamilton remarked ruefully at Suzuka, if the McLaren car had been this good all season, it might have been a very different story. No doubt the team will also be using the next few races to make sure they aren't so slow off the line at the start of next year.
Suzuka was an appropriate place to see Vettel crowned world champion. Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost and Hill have been among those to do likewise there, and this historic, high-speed track deserves its place in history.
This year meant a lot to locals after all the difficulties of the past year in Japan. It still is a country that loves its motorsport, which can hold its own with European countries in terms of tracks, fans and drivers.
After the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear tragedy, it was nice to see the Formula One fraternity showing solidarity with the Japanese fans who have been coming to races long before the proliferation of fly-away races. Autosport reported that although Bernie Ecclestone didn't travel to Japan, he did fork out for 3,000 grandstand tickets to give to those affected by the earthquake.
The local hero, Kamui Kobayashi, also paid for a group of people from the Fukushima Prefecture to attend the grand prix. Unfortunately for them and the others crammed into Suzuka, Kobayashi couldn't repeat his heroics of last year.
Then he drove a barnstormer from 14th to seventh place. This year, he went the other way, qualifying in seventh only to finish in 16th.
Some fairy tales stubbornly refuse to be written.