When the Formula 1 world championship is all tied up as early as it has been this year, with four races still to run, the patience of the players on the sport's stage is put to the test.
While the engineers and technicians continue their search for ways to innovate and find solutions to problems, which can then be deployed next season, the biggest problem for the drivers is trying to find an incentive to continue driving on the limit, as if their lives depended on it. Some, evidently, are finding it easier than others.
Sebastian Vettel, who secured his second consecutive championship win in Japan last Sunday, is already thinking about his next objective. The German, who has broken all the sports records in terms of age ? he is still only 24 ? is determined to keep making history. Thanks to the outstanding performance this year of his Red Bull RB7, he has a great chance to do so.
Vettel has already racked up nine wins this year, and should he manage to cross the line first at the four remaining grands prix of the season, he would equal Michael Schumacher's record of 13 wins in a single season, something the former world champion managed in 2004 with Ferrari. What's more, Vettel has secured 12 pole positions on qualifying day this year, just two less than Nigel Mansell's record of 14, in the 1992 season.
On the other side of the equation is Spanish driver Fernando Alonso. The former world champion is well aware of the limitations of his Ferrari, with the team languishing in third place in the constructors championship, in a kind of no-man's land: he has a considerable margin over fourth-placed Mercedes (169 points) but is way off second-placed McLaren (96 points). Faced with such a disheartening scenario, Alonso has said that he will be returning to his origins, to the time when he just drove for fun, and to try and find the limits of whatever it is he is driving.
"I would like to try to win one race if possible," Alonso told the press on Thursday, ahead of this weekend's Korean Grand Prix. "We know it will be difficult. Red Bull will remain favorites for the remaining races. McLaren is very strong at this part of the championship as well, so we know it is going to be difficult. But we will try every Sunday, we will try to enjoy racing, with obviously not the pressure of the championship position or whatever, as I think finishing second, third or fifth in the drivers' championship is not a big difference. Once you cannot be world champion it is not a big interest any more."
But when it came to any upgrades or developments to the car, which could help Alonso take the championship he so dearly wants to win again in 2012, he was keeping his cards close to his chest. When asked if his Ferrari would be running a new wing or any new bits or pieces this weekend, he had this to say: "I know some things but I plan not to tell you what we have new in the car," he joked. "[That would] give you an easy life."