Can prancing horsepower leave Red Bull behind?

For Ferrari the victory at Silverstone was like a rope that has been cast down into the abyss it is in. There's a new-found belief in the team that Sebastian Vettel can be stopped in his tracks. And more importantly, Fernando Alonso believes that he has the car to take the fight to the Red Bull camp, writes G. Raghunath.

Fernando Alonso's comprehensive victory at Silverstone (British Grand Prix) recently is significant in more ways than one. But it's hard to speculate at this stage if Ferrari's 216th victory in Formula One racing — it came 60 years after the Scuderia had opened its account on the same circuit — and its first this season will actually mark the beginning of the Italian team's ascendancy this year.

However, Alonso's victory is relevant for the fact that it has brought some sparkle to an otherwise droning competition where Sebastian Vettel's near invincible runs were just beginning to get tedious. Of even greater importance is that the championship's leading team, Red Bull, is already beginning to show signs of edginess, having been beaten to the chequered flag thrice — twice by McLaren and once by Ferrari.

The message radioed to Mark Webber during the final lap at Silverstone — “maintain the gap” — as the Australian was hot on Vettel's tail said it all.

After all, the difference between second place (18 points) and third place (15 points) isn't much, and Vettel being far ahead of his nearest rival and team-mate with a sumptuous lead of over 75 points at that stage, it wouldn't have hurt the German had he finished behind Webber.

Immediately after the British GP, Vettel pressed the panic button. “It is a very important time now for the championship. We are in a good position still, but we need to keep working on ourselves because otherwise the others will get too close for our liking,” he said. It's quite clear now that both Vettel and Red Bull see Ferrari as their main threat.

For Ferrari the victory at Silverstone was like a rope that has been cast down into the abyss it is in. There's a new-found belief in the team that Vettel can be stopped in his tracks. And more importantly, Alonso believes that he has the car to take the fight to the Red Bull camp. “We lost a bit of ground in the first couple of races because the new parts on the car weren't quick,” the Spaniard told BBC Sport.

“But it seems that in the last three or four races every new part is working fine. I am proud of the recovery we made.

“It feels much easier to drive now and you can feel it much more stuck to the ground than before, especially in the fast corners. That means it has more aerodynamic downforce, which was the area where we trailed our main rivals the most.”

Now this leads us to another recondite plot — Vettel versus his challengers. While the Red Bull driver continues his dogged pursuit of a second world championship, it would be interesting to see how his rivals plan to stop the German's rush forward.

For now, the lead of 80 points over Webber, who is second in the drivers' standings, might seem like an insurance against Vettel's defeat, raising visions of invincibility in the Red Bull pit. But with 10 races to go and 250 points to be won, they can be deceptive, like images in a bevelled mirror.

As for the main challengers to the crown, let's weigh their chances.

Mark Webber (124 points)

Being 80 points adrift of Vettel might not exactly be a comfortable thought. However, Webber is geared up to fight to the finish, and like Vettel has a very fast car.

Talking of Vettel's challengers, the Formula One chief executive, Bernie Ecclestone, said recently, “Someone else would have to have very good luck to win this world championship. When I look at the speed of his car, I think only his own team-mate has a chance.”

The Australian could really mount a serious challenge for the world title if, a) he shows far greater skill in handling the Pirellis, and b) if he is allowed the liberty to compete without having to worry about ‘team orders'.

Fernando Alonso (112 points)

“Never say never” — that was Ferrari team head Stefano Domenicali's refrain at the end of the British Grand Prix.

Perhaps egged on by these words, Alonso has decided to go flat out in the remaining 10 races. “We have to be realistic, because we are 92 points behind in the classification and that is a very big gap! We will tackle the races one at a time, trying to win as many as possible. This will also involve taking a few more risks and maybe it will happen that we pay a high price for that, but there is no alternative,” the Spaniard told the website

If Silverstone is any indication, Ferrari appears to have finally got its configuration right. But it should guard against desperation setting in as the pressure of competition increases. A botched pit stop last year that robbed Alonso of a possible world title should serve as a reminder to the team.

Lewis Hamilton (109 points)

The McLaren driver, who hasn't won a race since the Chinese Grand Prix in April this year, is talking of ‘burn out' and has warned his team that his sponsorship commitments are more than he can handle. He also hasn't hesitated to take pot shots at his team for what he believed were crazy and mislaid strategies, especially in Silverstone where Hamilton, running on light fuel load, had to take his foot off the gas pedal and allow Webber to pass him. He barely managed to stave off Felipe Massa's challenge in the final lap.

Hamilton blew his chances in a couple of races this season trying to be excessively aggressive. He drew flak from former F1 drivers for his perilous driving in the Canadian Grand Prix — “He is a danger to his peers,” they said.

Focus or the lack of it has been Hamilton's one big problem this year. Wedged between growing frustration over not having won in the last six races, mounting sponsorship commitments and talks of a possible move to Red Bull, Hamilton has been a pale shadow of the champion that he was in 2008. All that he needs is a competitive car; and a bit of freedom to race his way. He could then just turn the remainder of the season on its head.

Jenson Button (109 points)

The 2009 champion, somehow, gives one the impression of being quite content playing the bridesmaid at McLaren. One of the three drivers to have beaten Vettel this year, Button maintains that the defending champion can be beaten to the world title this year, but isn't exactly saying that he would be the one to do so.

The momentum he gained at the Canadian Grand Prix with an outstanding victory in the last lap counted for nothing as Button finished sixth at Valencia and retired at Silverstone following a pit-stop blunder.

Like Hamilton, he too hasn't been able to extract the best out of his car. But his fabulous drive in Montreal is a reminder that the Briton is capable of pulling it off.