Fernando Alonso stated that he was “100 per cent confident” that he would clinch the F1 world championship with a podium finish in the season-ending Abu Dhabi grand prix.
But the Ferrari ace’s prediction is now slipping into the GP history books as a classic example of not counting one’s chickens prematurely. Sebastian Vettel finished the season as the sport’s youngest ever world champion and it would be hard to argue that he didn’t deserve it.
And yet the dynamic young German Red Bull driver only took the lead of the championship battle in the final race of the season into which he had gone holding third place behind Alonso and his team mate Mark Webber.
Alonso was at this stage unquestionably the favourite having already won five races and was poised in many people’s minds to cruise to his third title crown. Yet the impressive Maranello challenge turned into a strategic disaster and the Spaniard could only limp home seventh ahead of the similarly luckless Webber.
Red Bull Racing’s technical chief Adrian Newey presided over a brilliant design team which delivered the sensational RB6 challenger which, at most circuits, produced a performance cushion of around half a second a lap over its key opposition.
And yet the RB6 only managed nine victories out of the 19 races in the series, proving worryingly brittle on several occasions, but it was still the class of the field and should have added another four wins to its tally had it not been for these unwelcome setbacks.
The rivalry between Vettel and Webber also spilled over in a manner reminiscent of the Prost/Senna confrontations of the 1980s when they collided while battling for the lead at Istanbul.
For Webber, failing to win the title was a bitter disappointment after a year during which he led the points table for much of the summer. The Australian had been impressive enough in 2009, but now he came of age with a succession of blisteringly quick and confident performances which garnered him impressive victories in two of the most prestigious races on the calendar: Monaco and Britain.
But when he crashed out of the rain-soaked inaugural Korean GP it looked as though the slip would prove fatal for his chances. And so it turned out to be.
In the end Vettel sealed his championship after a masterly drive in the final race of the season, rounding off a campaign of dramatically fluctuating fortunes with McLaren, Ferrari and Red Bull monopolising the action centre stage with 2009 world champion Jenson Button making a surprise switch to McLaren to join the brilliant Lewis Hamilton.
That created a vacancy in the Brawn squad – now re-branded Mercedes – which was filled by 41-year-old seven times world champion Michael Schumacher who emerged from retirement to square up with the latest crop of youngsters.
That Schumacher was comprehensively routed by his team mate Nico Rosberg was brushed aside by Mercedes who admitted that they’d not given him a good enough car.
Whether Schumacher can materially alter this perception in 2011 remains one of the most tantalising uncertainties about next season. Switching to Pirelli rubber alone may not be enough.