Two races left and the 2012 Formula One championship is breathing deep, heavy gulps.
Unlike its predecessor, the season is very much alive.
In 2011, the drivers' competition was killed off by Sebastian Vettel in Japan with four races to go. This year it is poised to be a beautiful dog-fight between two double world champions, only one of who is destined for his third.
To have a fuel-guzzling finale is great for F1 and its fans. Separated by just 10 points, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso give Red Bull and Ferrari fans, along with the German and Spanish, something to cheer.
This ending shouldn’t be taken for granted. Nor should the journey to this point be forgotten.
It has been a peculiar year of racing. A highly unpredictable start has been followed by a muted middle, leaving everything up for grabs in the final chapter. It can still end with a bang or a whimper.
However, the topsy-turvy start was one to remember. After the first seven grand prix produced seven different winners, even those in the paddock were left scratching their heads. Only a few months in and the supremacy of Red Bull and Vettel already belonged to another time.
It was a bizarre beginning that highlighted the sport's fluidity. It reminded fans that Formula One's royalty are always susceptible to the odd coup.
After seven races, nobody could be ruled out.
However, the middle of the year did bring some order. Favourites Alonso and Vettel quietly reasserted their authority and only a temperamental McLaren car kept Lewis Hamilton from joining them at the top of the standings.
With a number of retirements, it is understandable why Hamilton has decided to desert his boyhood team to move to Mercedes in 2013. Whether they can give the Brit the car his driving skills deserve is another question entirely.
Once again Hamilton rumbled out in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, but the race was anything but a damp squid.
In fact, it was the perfect way to introduce the final chapter of the 2012 championship.
Even though F1's increasing technical complexities have distanced some fans, Abu Dhabi symbolised all that is still right with the sport. It was a race for the purists.
Last weekend had everything; penalties, crashes, overtaking, brave driving, stupid driving and an eighth winner. This time it was Finland’s Kimi Raikkonen who scored his first win since returning to F1 and also gave the Lotus name its first triumph since 1987.
The drama unfurled on Saturday though when championship leader Vettel, after finishing third in qualifying, was relegated to the back of the grid after a fuel discrepancy. Alonso shifted up to sixth on the grid and would have been licking his smackers in anticipation of Sunday’s race. Surely this was the chance to overtake Vettel at the top?
No, it was not.
Over the last few weeks a fire has been burning under Vettel and his car. In the UAE, he drove like a demon, smashing his way through the field to finish third, only one place behind the trembling Spaniard.
Abu Dhabi was a taste of the sport at its best. Next up on the menu is the United States, then to a Brazilian afters.
If the finale of the season is anything like the beginning, it will be unpredictable, and a little bit mad.
But right now, even thinking against Vettel seems like a foolish plan.
It may not be as easy as it was a year ago, but for a third season running there’s only one man to beat.
Source: Al Jazeera