When will Vettel be crowned world champion?

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Without wishing to be too cynical, it would appear that the 2013 Formula One world championship is slowly becoming a foregone conclusion. Following a scintillating run of five wins in the last seven races (it may well have been six had he not retired at Silverstone), Sebastian Vettel enjoys a 60 point lead over Fernando Alonso and he will be keen on extending this gap in the coming races. Assuming that this title is Seb’s for the taking, just when will he be crowned world champion?

Japanese Grand Prix

The earliest possible chance for Vettel to be crowned champion of the world for a fourth time will be at the Japanese Grand Prix on October 13. Vettel’s championship lead currently stands at 60 points. Wins in Korea and Japan will give him a 110 point lead with just 100 to play for (that is before we take Alonso into account). To stand any chance – as slim as it may be – of winning the title after the Japanese Grand Prix, Alonso must pick up ten points in the next two races. Given that he has scored at least 18 points over each two-race period in 2013 so far, it is unlikely that Vettel will walk away from Suzuka a four-time champ. The more probable ‘four’ Vettel will boast is a fourth win at the circuit, known to be one of his favorites.

Indian Grand Prix

The final Indian Grand Prix until 2015 is the most likely location of Vettel’s coronation. Buddh International Circuit will welcome the drivers at the end of October, and Vettel is the only winner at the circuit (it has only run twice, though). After this race, there will be 75 points left on the table. Therefore, Vettel must extend his lead over Alonso at a rate of 5 points per race in the next three grands prix. With a win putting a driver at least 7 clear of P2, if Vettel were to win the next three grands prix, he would be crowned champion in India regardless of what Alonso does. The magic number for Seb in the coming weeks is 15. Should he be a further 15 points better off than Alonso following the next three races, he will be champion in India.

Abu Dhabi Grand Prix

Should Vettel fail to extend his lead over Alonso before the race in India, he will take some comfort in knowing that Abu Dhabi is a near-certainty. For Alonso to prevent the German driver from being champion by the time the checkered flag falls at Yas Marina, he must outscore him by at least 11 points. So far in 2013, two-time champion Alonso has failed to do this, with his best aggregate advantage over Vettel in a two race spell being 8 points (Canada and Britain). So long as Seb keeps within touching distance of the Ferrari, the title will be his.

It will take a remarkable turnaround for Vettel to be prevented from taking a fourth straight title, although this was a given. However, by breaking it down into figures, it is all the more evident that the German driver can put the champagne on ice and begin to plot his assault on a fifth championship in 2014.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.