The Formula One season is all over bar the shouting after Sebastian Vettel won his seventh of 12 races to tighten his grip on the title.
That, at least, is the view of most F1 observers, and even some of Vettel’s immediate rivals.
“His opponents can start packing their bags. The question is no longer who wins the title this year. The only question now is when Vettel can start celebrating,” Germany’s Bild newspaper wrote on Monday.
Vettel himself is staying cagey but a 92-point lead in the drivers’ championship means a second successive title could even be his after the next two races.
After cruising to victory at Sunday’s Belgian Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull team-mate Mark Webber, Vettel can stroll to the title, said Bild.
If he wins at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza on September 11 and Singapore on September 25 and his rivals drop points, the celebrations at Red Bull can begin.
According to Britain’s Guardian, the other teams have more or less now given up trying to match Vettel and the Red Bull.
The circuit “was covered in thrown-in towels” as Vettel took his points tally to 259, with Webber trailing on 167, Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso on 157, McLaren’s Jenson Button on 149 and team-mate Lewis Hamilton on 146.
“Even the wildest flights of fancy that have been recently heard from Britain’s Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button, as well as Spain’s Fernando Alonso, are now buried deep in the dark forests and rolling hills of the Ardennes,” it wrote.
With just seven races remaining the 24-year-old German could probably even afford not to finish four of them and still be crowned champion. Vettel has not finished outside the top four all season.
“It’s certainly all over,” said three-time world champion Niki Lauda.
“No question about it, the only question is when. It could happen theoretically in Singapore. It could easily happen in Japan (on October 8) but for sure in Korea (October 16) if not before.” Vettel, who ended a three-race series without a win, insists he is not looking at the standings or taking anything for granted.
The Spa win, he said, has “brought us closer to our final target, but it’s still a long way...if you are out in two races and someone else is having a good couple of races, it could change so all we do is try to get the optimum every time.” Hamilton, the 2008 champion, however concedes that his challenge is effectively over after crashing out in a collision with Kamui Kobayashi’s Sauber.
“Everyone should forget about the title because it is not going to happen,” he said. “I’ll get as high up as I can in the championship, but that’s it.” However McLaren team principal Martin Whitmarsh said the team would keep pushing and not switch its efforts into developing the 2012 car.
“We are working on next year’s car, but probably a weakness of McLaren, and my own personal weakness, is that I don’t like not winning, so I cannot help myself,” he said.
“I am always going to ask the guys, ‘how are we making the car quicker next week?’ And we have to keep pushing for the time being.
There are some races we can win and that has to be the goal at the moment.
“The championship looks pretty ambitious but at the moment we have to be positive, and the fans expect it. If Ferrari and McLaren say we are going to free-wheel now, I don’t think that is the right message.
I think the fans deserve a stronger battle than that.” Alonso, who finished fourth, is also still clinging to his outside hopes of a third world title.
“At the moment we must congratulate our opponents, who are doing a fantastic job, but we will not give up, at least until the mathematics tell us otherwise,” he said.
“We will always try to win, giving it our best shot, starting in Monza, a very special event for Ferrari and for all its fans, and then in all the other remaining races this season.”