In the aftermath of this morning's race at Yeongam, it felt to me like a pall of cold reality was hanging over many Formula 1 followers. Not only did we see a relatively mundane contest, but the realisation has started to dawn that Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull have assumed a momentum which, although not irreversible, will definitely take some arresting.
As some had anticipated, Vettel asserted control right from the start of the race, and that was that. Although Fernando Alonso sporadically threatened to place himself between the two Red Bulls, in the end Vettel and Webber were reasonably comfortable. The Red Bulls were visually very stable and efficient, and the writing is very much on the wall for their competitors. There was an air of serenity about Vettel, and other Red Bull people, afterwards. The glum expressions on the faces of some rival teams displayed the flip-side of this.
It has to be admitted that McLaren endured a miserable Grand Prix, but it should be pointed out that after practice and qualifying the team appeared cautiously bullish, if not exactly ecstatic, about their prospective race pace. In the event, this pace was not permitted to reveal itself, as Jenson Button was eliminated at the start, and Lewis Hamilton was afflicted by mechanical maladies. This all had a detrimental effect on Hamilton's and McLaren's position in the points standings. The titles may be out of reach, but there are still potential race wins to be fought for in the closing four events, assuming reliability of course!.
Ferrari was another team which emitted vaguely positive vibes about its performance in race trim, and they at least partly delivered on this, even if they ultimately could not quite live with the redoubtable Red Bulls. Fernando Alonso, as is usual, extracted the maximum possible from the machinery at his disposal, but must now realise that he is playing catch-up, having been protecting his points lead in previous races. Felipe Massa once again showed his mettle, and today's display probably secured his 2013 berth with the team, that is assuming that the decision to retain his services had not already been made.
Kimi Raikkonen is third in the championship standings, but the upgrades to the car unsurprisingly did not represent any kind of quantum leap. The changes seem merely to have allowed Lotus to hold station, and prevent the "big three" from disappearing further over the horizon. One positive aspect for the team was the relatively inconspicuous outing enjoyed by Romain Grosjean. He largely kept away from trouble, and after the race seemed happier than of late. He will be even more buoyant if, as seems increasingly probable, he is kept on for next season.
Nico Hulkenberg attained another solid result in his quiet, unobtrusive but proficient style. Possibilities of seats at the very top teams seem to be blocked for the time being, and maybe Hulkenberg is just too "unglamorous" and unassuming for his own good in this respect. However, the indications are that he will find himself in a Sauber for next season, and this should constitute a useful stepping stone.
So, with three consecutive victories, Vettel must now be considered favourite to clinch another title. This season's fluctuations have taught us not to take anything for granted, but the recent surge by Red Bull has the stamp of permanence and authority about it. One can also discern a creeping, if not irrevocable, demolarization amongst the other participants.
We know that Fernando Alonso is capable of great things, and of at least partially compensating for a technical performance shortfall, but even he and his team may prove incapable of turning the tide on this occasion. We shall soon discover whether Ferrari have anything else up their sleeves, or any more aces to play. Otherwise, they will be relying on mistakes or misfortune befalling Red Bull.
The Indian Grand Prix should provide us with some of the answers....