- Vettel races into title hot seat with Red Bull 'double DRS'
- Hamilton concedes title now 'two horse race'
- Webber confronted Grosjean after 'nutcase' jibe
- Korea GP organisers insist F1 'worthwhile' despite loss
- Grosjean's career not in danger 'for now' - Boullier
- Schumacher had talks with Sauber, Ferrari - Lauda
- Danner tells Lauda to fire Mercedes staff
- Berger urges Ferrari to dump Massa
Vettel races into title hot seat with Red Bull 'double DRS'
The final five races of the 2012 season will likely stage a head-to-head contest between Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, with the protagonists each pushing to add a prestigious third crown to their tallies.
Mathematically, however, there are plenty of contenders still in the running, including Kimi Raikkonen, Lewis Hamilton, Mark Webber, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and even the beleaguered Romain Grosjean and Felipe Massa.
But Bild newspaper confidently predicts German Vettel "will be world champion" after he won so dominantly from pole at Suzuka, with Alonso's Ferrari stranded in the first-corner dirt trap.
Until very recently, Spaniard Alonso was the overwhelming title favourite, causing Austria's Kleine Zeitung to muse after Japan that Suzuka was "The great turning point" in the 2012 battle.
Some think it is not Alonso's bad luck that is the major factor, but Red Bull's latest - and until now low-profile - Adrian Newey-penned aerodynamic development.
The new 'double DRS' has undoubtedly been a factor as Vettel overcame McLaren's recent dominance with wins in Singapore and now Japan.
So will Ferrari and McLaren have to rush out copies now?
"You don't develop something like that overnight," Germany's Auto Motor und Sport quotes Ferrari boss Stefano Domenicali as saying.
McLaren's Martin Whitmarsh adds: "It's not a good idea to panic."
But the Briton admitted McLaren has a double-DRS "project" on the back-burner.
Former F1 engineer and manager Joan Villadelprat wrote in Spain's El Pais newspaper: "Less than a month ago nobody would have bet on Red Bull in this championship.
"But Ferrari cannot give up because they have the means to develop until the very last race, despite the problems they're having in the wind tunnel.
"And they have an extraordinary driver in Fernando Alonso, who even after two retirements is still able to aspire for the title with only five races to go."
Alonso, however, is clearly frustrated that a title he once seemed destined to secure is now dwindling.
"For six races," he told Spanish reporters after retiring in Suzuka, "we have had the same car, without a single new piece.
"Felipe (Massa) did a perfect race, driving well, but I see his second place as a little coincidental. There were people with much faster cars, making mistakes and going off the track one after another."
Domenicali is quoted by Brazil's O Estado de S.Paulo: "I can fully understand his frustration right now.
"But you all can be assured that we are working hard to give Fernando a car with which he can express his talent."
But German commentator Christian Danner said: "Red Bull has made such a big jump, and now have such an incredibly good car, that I can hardly imagine Ferrari challenging them now."
Hamilton concedes title now 'two horse race'
McLaren's drivers have conceded that they are effectively now out of the chase for the world championship.
After Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel won in Suzuka with title leader Fernando Alonso out at the first corner, pundits up and down the pitlane agreed that the pair will now have a head-to-head battle for the championship over the last five races of 2012.
Mathematically, however, there are still plenty of contenders, including Lewis Hamilton who is 42 points behind.
But, referring to Vettel and Ferrari's Alonso, the departing McLaren driver said after Suzuka: "Anything can happen but at the moment it kind of is a two-horse race."
When told about Hamilton's comments, teammate Jenson Button admitted it "looks that way".
Even McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh acknowledged: "He (Alonso) is under pressure, more pressure frankly from Sebastian than from us but we have closed that gap and we have five races to go."
His Red Bull counterpart Christian Horner also said Alonso and Vettel are the favourites, adding: "You can't rule out the others but whoever does the best job over the next five races will ultimately prevail."
It may be a two-horse race, and Alonso may still be leading by 4 points, but most pundits believe Vettel is now the favourite, given the superiority of his car in Japan.
"It seems," wrote O Estado de S.Paulo correspondent Livio Oricchio, "that we are witnessing a repeat of the 2010 championship.
"The difference is that Vettel is more mature now and the gap to Alonso is only 4 points. In 2010, five races to the end, Vettel was fifth, 24 points behind the leader."
The disappointed Alonso said before leaving Japan that, "If the enemy thinks of the mountains, attack by sea; and if he thinks of the sea, attack by the mountains."
Originally, they were the words of a 17th century Japanese warrior, to which El Confidencial journalist Javier Rubio replied: "Yes, but to attack by the sea, you need a boat."
He is referring to Ferrari's flagging fortunes with the F2012, with Italy's authoritative La Gazzetta dello Sport agreeing that Red Bull's dominance in Japan was "scary".
"One can only hope that the championship for Ferrari is not already lost," the sports daily added.
A survey in the Spanish sports newspaper Marca showed that, of the 4,700 voters, 47.7 per cent believe Alonso will win the title, compared to 47.1pc for Vettel.
Only 3.6 voted for Kimi Raikkonen, with Lewis Hamilton attracting 1.6pc.
Webber confronted Grosjean after 'nutcase' jibe
Mark Webber has admitted to confronting Romain Grosjean after Sunday's Japanese GP.
The Australian was furious with the Lotus driver at Suzuka, describing the Frenchman as a "nutcase" after their first corner tangle.
It is Grosjean's ninth similar offence since returning to F1 as GP2 champion this year, causing many in the paddock to call on the FIA to give the 26-year-old yet another race ban.
Grosjean admitted after the race that Webber was "obviously not happy" when they had a word in the Suzuka paddock.
Germany's Auto Motor und Sport added that Webber had said to Grosjean, "Look me in the eye, Romain" as he gave the Frenchman a serious dressing-down.
"If you go on like this, you won't be here long," the Red Bull driver reportedly added.
Triple world champion Niki Lauda described Grosjean as "insane", the SID news agency reports.
The great Austrian added: "If he cannot learn, he must be banned again, and this time for more than just one race."
At Suzuka, the stewards gave Grosjean a ten second stop and go penalty - the harshest that can be applied during a race.
"The punishment is not adequate," said Red Bull's Dr Helmut Marko, "especially after his history."
McLaren's Jenson Button added: "Is it formula one's responsibility to do something about it? Or should he just take a good look at himself and sort his sh*t out, because that's what he needs to do."
Grosjean's boss Eric Boullier told RMC Sport that there is "no excuse" for the repeat offenses, insisting it is "he alone who must learn to control his emotions and the pressure".
But Boullier also said: "We could see in Singapore, when Romain was back on track (after the Monza ban), that the other drivers were putting some pressure on him at the start."
Korea GP organisers insist F1 'worthwhile' despite loss
South Korea has indicated it could keep organising an annual GP.
Despite the Yeongam race only joining the F1 schedule in 2010 and having a contract through 2016, recent speculation suggested organisers are baulking at the financial losses.
But organiser Park Jong-moon has been quoted by the Korea Times as saying losses from "big sports events" are "inevitable".
"Even the 1988 Seoul Olympics was a money-losing event, (but) it is worthwhile, considering other effects that were far greater than profit," he said.
Park also said Bernie Ecclestone has agreed not to charge the usual 10 per cent fee increase for the 2012 race, which is taking place this weekend.
But the Korea Times report said two main sponsors of the Grand Prix have pulled out.
"After reviewing our corporate image and alternatives, we decided not to take the main sponsor deal this year," an official for POSCO, a Korean steel company, said.
Grosjean's career not in danger 'for now' - Boullier
Eric Boullier was vague when asked if Romain Grosjean's constant first-lap crashes have endangered his future in F1.
"Not for now," said the Lotus team boss, who doubles as the head of the Gravity company that manages the beleaguered Frenchman's career.
After his Monza race ban, Grosjean was back in trouble at Suzuka when he incurred the furious Mark Webber's wrath for yet another first-corner crash.
"Maybe we need two separate starts - one for him, one for us," the Australian, having earlier slammed Grosjean as a "nutcase", told the BBC.
Pundits up and down the paddock have called on the FIA to get race bans at the ready once again for Grosjean, who was close to tears when he spoke to reporters in Japan.
The French-language RMC wondered if Grosjean's entire career could be in peril.
For now, Boullier is defending his driver.
"Even Schumacher had a lot of crashes at the start of his career," he said. "But everyone in the team is frustrated, me included."
The RMC Sport report said Grosjean should be able to hang on to his seat for 2013, given that Lotus' most important sponsor, Total, also staunchly backs the 2011 GP2 champion.
The report also said Lotus' contract 'option' to retain Grosjean in 2013 expires the day after Sunday's Korean grand prix.
"Before Japan, there was no doubt that this clause would be effected," the report read.
Now, the priority is simply to get Grosjean back on track.
"You can change anything you want in the environment around him, but in the end it is he who must learn to control the pressure," said Boullier.
And that pressure has ramped up to fever-pitch in the mere days before Grosjean must make yet another race-start.
"He has a lot of talent and could achieve great things," French former F1 driver Olivier Panis said. "But it's not going to pay off in the long term if he keeps behaving like that."
British Sky television commentator Martin Brundle added: "His judgement is clearly wrong in close combat and I don't know what he can do about it.
"You can't consciously start making decisions (at the start of a race). And then when you start getting tense about that, it's all the more likely to happen."
Schumacher had talks with Sauber, Ferrari - Lauda
Niki Lauda has confirmed that Michael Schumacher turned to Sauber and even Ferrari once he knew he would lose his Mercedes seat.
Austrian legend Lauda, who has joined Mercedes as non-executive chairman, insists seven time world champion Schumacher lost his seat only because his decision-making period about the future beyond 2012 was so prolonged.
He says Mercedes had to look around for alternatives, and closed a deal with Lewis Hamilton.
"We have seen how fast-moving and ruthless formula one is, with Mercedes responding extremely quickly once Hamilton was available," former F1 driver Alex Wurz told the Austrian broadcaster ORF.
Lauda revealed to the German broadcaster RTL that, once Schumacher realised Mercedes' future was with Hamilton, the 43-year-old German "talked to Sauber and telephoned Ferrari".
But he ultimately decided, on the Tuesday before the Japanese Grand Prix, to retire.
However, if both the Hamilton signing and Schumacher's decision happened at around the same time, why didn't Mercedes delay the Hamilton announcement so that Schumacher could avoid the perception that he was pushed out?
Team boss Ross Brawn explains: "Once we knew Lewis was coming to the team, we had to respond quickly, because Lewis wanted McLaren to know about the new situation.
"He has been with them (McLaren) for a long time and wanted to deal with them fairly. So once it was clear, we made it public."
Danner tells Lauda to fire Mercedes staff
A German F1 pundit has advised Niki Lauda to take an axe to Mercedes' current personnel lineup.
Lauda, the great Austrian triple world champion, has been signed on as Mercedes' non-executive chairman - effectively a decision-making link between the German marque's Stuttgart headquarters and the racing team in the UK.
So far, he has negotiated Mercedes' new Concorde Agreement deal and lured Lewis Hamilton onto the team for 2013.
RTL commentator Christian Danner, a former driver, now wants Lauda to sack staff.
"The people who built this car should really all be fired," he told Bild newspaper.
"It can't be that you drive all around the world for nine months only to find that your car is as fast as a Toro Rosso," added Danner.
Danner said it is now up to Lauda to put things right.
"He is responsible to make the next decisions. And those decisions will primarily be about the personnel."
Berger urges Ferrari to dump Massa
Former Ferrari driver Gerhard Berger thinks the great Italian team should drop Felipe Massa.
However, after the Brazilian at Suzuka finally returned to the podium after a two-year absence, all the signs are that Ferrari is set to sign his 2013 contract.
Austrian Berger is perplexed.
"This makes no sense," he told Germany's Auto Bild. "It's never just about one race.
"I would put Hulkenberg or di Resta in his place. They are young and fast - exactly what Ferrari needs to fight for the constructors' title," added Berger.
Ferrari apparently does not agree.
One team insider told Auto Motor und Sport: "Among the young guys we see nobody about whom we can say 'We must have him'."
Indeed, Massa, 31, is putting out the message that his future is now safe.
"The conversation we have been having until now has been that it (a new contract) should happen," he told Portuguese-language media at Suzuka on Sunday.
"I'm hoping it will be confirmed as soon as possible."
Team boss Stefano Domenicali is also on message: "We will make an announcement soon," he is quoted by Italy's La Stampa.
If and when the news is confirmed, it will mean the seats at all of the top teams are essentially in place, with the rest of the 2013 grid to then follow suit.
Ferrari-powered Sauber, tipped to re-sign Japanese Kamui Kobayashi after his hugely-popular Suzuka podium, has announced it will settle its 2013 lineup before November's finale.
And chief executive Monisha Kaltenborn also hinted about Massa's future, suggesting speculation the Brazilian could return to Sauber if he is dropped by Ferrari is wide of the mark.
"It (Sauber's decision) has, for a change, nothing to do with Ferrari," she is quoted by the Sun.
Ferrari is expected to announce the Massa news either immediately before or immediately after this weekend's Korean grand prix.
"This second place (in Japan) is a very important result in a decisive moment for him," Domenicali is quoted by Auto Motor und Sport.
Asked if that means Massa is staying in 2013, he added: "Let's not take a second step before we've taken the first."
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