Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton have had quite a rapprochement this year, particularly at the British GP where the latter suggested they each give the other one of their helmets. But it's unlikely the Spaniard ever envisaged looking to his old McLaren team-mate and nemesis for help. Until now.
After qualifying at the grand Circuit of the Americas yesterday left Alonso trailing in ninth place as title rival Sebastian Vettel took yet another pole in his Red Bull, it may be only Hamilton who can stop the German's almost inevitable march to the World Championship.
Vettel is 10 points ahead of Alonso and must extend that to 25 today to secure a third consecutive title. Notwithstanding the fact Alonso's Ferrari always goes better in the race than it does in qualifying, he faces a mountain steeper even than the run to the unusual first corner here if he is to keep his title hopes alive long enough to exploit a heavily revised car for next week's finale in Brazil.
"I'm very, very pleased with the result, obviously," Vettel said with the smile of a man who senses his destiny is close at hand. "Through qualifying I think we were very happy. In the last section I would have loved to go a little bit quicker. I think I lost a little bit in the first and the last sector. It was a little bit closer than I wanted with Lewis. But overall, fantastic. Obviously, it's very important here to start from the front. We start on the clean side, both of us, so yeah, should be a good race tomorrow."
If Vettel takes another victory, his sixth of the season, Alonso needs to finish fourth to keep his hopes alive for that last race. Even with Romain Grosjean dropping from fourth on the grid to ninth because of a penalty for changing the gearbox on his Lotus, which promotes Alonso to eighth on the grid, that could be a tall order. With the likes of Hamilton, Mark Webber, Abu Dhabi winner Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher separating him from Vettel, Alonso won't be enjoying a trip to Paris when the red lights go out at one o'clock American time.
"Obviously we have to look after ourselves, and so far nobody has scored any points," Vettel said, falling into a familiar mantra. "I think we have seen at the last race how quickly things can change and even starting at the back does give you opportunities, so we need to wait and see."
Alonso was again philosophical: "We never managed to put together the best lap, which on these tyres and with these track conditions is always the last one you do. We knew it would be a complicated weekend but clearly today we were too slow and we will start from too far back. Having said that, the accounts are always done at the end of the race: also in Abu Dhabi we were slower than our main rivals, and then we got back three points in the classification.
"Our aim remains unchanged and it's still possible: on Sunday all sorts of things can happen. Reliability, strategy – it will be important to work out when is the best time to pit because here the cold tyres can be slower by several seconds – and team work will be as usual important. We will push to the limit, as we have done since the start of the year."
Hamilton is aching to sign off his McLaren career with a victory, especially after losing out in Singapore and Abu Dhabi while leading. After a brilliant qualifying lap that was just a tenth of a second slower than Vettel's he will look for the win regardless of what effect it might have on the championship outcome.
"I did a launch from the dirty side of the grid earlier and it was quite slippery," he said. "But it's so wide in Turn One, I don't think really much can go wrong there generally… I might be wrong! Obviously I don't want to get in the way of Sebastian's race. But I do want to win, so I'll try my best to get through cleanly."
Vettel in the title driving seat
Sebastian Vettel took pole for today's race but his title rival Fernando Alonso could only manage ninth on the grid. This makes the Spaniard's task to stay in the title hunt even harder. If Vettel wins the race, Alonso must finish fourth or better to take the world championship to the last race in Brazil. If Vettel, who has a 10-point lead, finishes second, Alonso must finish eighth or better. If Vettel, 25, wins the title, he will become the youngest triple world champion in Formula One history.