Can't be nice heading into the summer break if you're McLaren or Ferrari, having just suffered a 1s per lap drubbing from Red Bull and with the shutdown not permitting you to respond. Lewis Hamilton made the point that the enforced holiday period has arrived at exactly the wrong time for them.
But is it as bad as all that? Sure, there's not enough time to have a big aero update on the car by Spa, but that's not necessarily such a disaster. The McLaren will almost certainly be quick at Spa regardless, courtesy of the long straights of sectors one and three. It may well lose 1s to the Red Bull in the fast downhill sweeps of the middle sector - and just the thought of the RB6 through Pouhon sends shivers down the spine - but the Mac's straightline advantage should just about put it on a par overall, and what's more, should make it more raceable.
There's not much overtaking to be done in the middle sector, but there's plenty to be done into Les Combes at the end of the climb from Eau Rouge. The Ferrari is traditionally good there, too.
After that we have Monza - which should be vying with Montreal as Red Bull's weakest track. It cannot get enough downforce off that car to give it drag that's McLaren-low, but even though Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber will be dynamite through the Lesmos, the rest of the lap is about straightline, pure and simple. McLaren's F-duct - which works better than anyone else's - should have Hamilton and Jenson Button right in contention there. The Ferrari's great braking and traction will be a boon and it would be no surprise to see all three teams very closely matched there.
Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button © LAT
Next we have Singapore, a street circuit that may not be as well suited to this McLaren as to last year's more bump-absorbent car - but it's still not a particularly aero-demanding track and the team does have Hamilton to squeeze that little bit extra there. You'd bet Fernando Alonso would be at the sharp end of the action around these streets, looking perhaps for a victory there more meritorious than that of '08. It's not that the Red Bull will likely be slow, just not Hungary-untouchable.
But then we go to Suzuka; with its long-duration high-speed corners it's got Red Bull one-two written all over it. That is surely the target for any big downforce boost McLaren and Ferrari can find - and the significant point is that Suzuka is a full two months after the teams return to work. What's more, with the possible exception of South Korea - a track we don't know much about - none of the post-Suzuka circuits are on Red Bull territory. You might be a little concerned about McLaren's prospects over the Interlagos bumps, but otherwise it's still very much game on for all three teams and five drivers.
The tasks facing the five contenders in the remainder of the season are quite different. Alonso has the simplest task. As the furthest behind, his destiny isn't fully in his hands. All he can do is eliminate the errors that littered his first half-season. You get the sense that since the Silverstone updates and his realisation that the car is now somewhere close to good enough, he's gone into battle mode, battened down the hatches, forced the team to make its awkward but inevitable choice - and taken them with him, full of resolve. He's been here before, he knows how to do it and he has a rear-gunner in Felipe Massa.
Webber and Vettel know they are going to be fast everywhere and super-fast at Suzuka, but also know they have to beat the other side of the garage. Gaining and maintaining the psychological upper hand could be the decider here, and from two guys that have yet to win a title that's a fascinating prospect.
For the two world champions at McLaren, you don't sense that same edge of desperation. Hamilton will simply do his stuff, reacting to the moment with brilliance but little anticipation. Button's best hope is a race or two of weather-afflicted chaos.
The summer breather has actually allowed a fuller sense of the brilliant battle ahead.
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