Renault-McLaren not the only battle raging 13 Sep 2005
So we are into the closing stages of the 2005 season - the part of the year when teams try to mount one last, big push to improve their final standings in the constructors' championship.
Renault versus McLaren is, of course, the headline-grabbing showdown as we head into the last three races. Although Renault's Fernando Alonso is now firm favourite to take the driver's title - leading McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen by 25 points - the battle between their respective teams is far closer. Just six points separate them at present - Renault having 152 and McLaren 146 - with a one-two victory in any of the following races worth 18 points. A single crash or mechanical failure could well swing the championship.
But further down the order the rivalry is equally fierce. Ferrari are still in third place on 90 points, thanks in part to the 18 they scored in the United States Grand Prix, but Toyota are just ten behind - and desperate to achieve the attention and respect that would come from the youngest all-new team beating the oldest and most successful team in the sport. And, on the form of recent races, Ferrari may be doing well to hold onto the position - Toyota have taken 12 points from the last three races, the Italian team just four. Indeed, after the difficult season they have endured so far, merely emerging from the end of the Chinese Grand Prix with their third place intact could be seen as an achievement for Ferrari.
Williams look relatively secure in fifth place - they would need a fairly dramatic improvement in form to get on terms with Ferrari and Toyota. But it's in sixth and seventh places of the championship that the closest fight is developing nicely - that between BAR and Red Bull Racing. Despite finishing last year's championship in second place, BAR have proved highly inconsistent this year, and only at the last round in Spa have they edged ahead of their rookie rivals. BAR have usually possessed the faster car in qualifying - but less impressive race pace and reliability have allowed Red Bull to keep them honest thanks to some strong, consistent race performances. The fascinating variable in this one may well be each team's second driver - with Takuma Sato's shaky form for BAR and the possible return of the relatively inexperienced Vitantonio Liuzzi for Red Bull in the closing races of the season.
Sauber, like Williams, look unlikely to change their position, leaving just the contest between Jordan and Minardi to be resolved at the bottom of the table. Minardi boss Paul Stoddart has made it clear that finishing ahead of Jordan in the championship is his team's key aim. However, they currently trail by five points (seven to Jordan's 12) and will need a very lucky break in one of the closing races if that situation is to change. In fact, there's a reasonable chance that neither Jordan nor Minardi will score any more points, certainly not if the current trend towards ultra-reliability on the part of the higher runners continues.
It will be fascinating to see how it all pans out.