Coming up on the rails | Kimi Raikkonen‘s metronomic consistency, combined with a forthcoming major upgrade for Lotus, could see the Iceman become a serious title contender over the second half of the season (Image | AP)

Somewhat overlooked due to the Olympic Games, the Hungarian Grand Prix saw Lewis Hamilton record his second victory of the season to reignite his title bid, but the result observers should have been more wary of was the second place of Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen.

Raikkonen’s second place was his fifth podium of the season and although a win still eludes the Iceman (and Lotus), he has only failed to score points on one occasion this season - a record eclipsed only by championship leader Fernando Alonso. What’s more impressive about Raikkonen’s performance at Hungary is that he finished just over a second behind Hamilton, with the victor even admitting that had the race been at a circuit where there are more overtaking opportunities, he would have struggled to keep the blistering pace of the Lotus at bay.

The Lotus E20 is rumoured to have a major upgrade in time for the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps; a circuit where Raikkonen usually excels (he has won on four of his last five visits to Spa) and where he will hope he can capture his first win since his return to the sport this season. With regard to the title race, Formula One enters the business end of the season on September 2 and those in contention will want to consistently be finishing on the podium in the closing stages. Finishing outside of the points or retiring in just one race could signify the end to their championship bid.

Raikkonen should not be considered as out of the championship and the Lotus has quite formidable race pace. Also, the Finn arguably has the least pressure on his shoulders to win the title compared with the other contenders. Although Lotus probably expected to win races this season, they were hardly considered as championship contenders at the start of the season, and while the 32-year-old is 48 points behind Alonso, few will forget his storm to the 2007 world championship where he recorded nine podium finishes in 10 races to brush aside McLaren duo Hamilton and Alonso to win his maiden title.

On the back of two years of subjugation to the brilliance of Sebastian Vettel, Aussie veteran Mark Webber has never looked more determined for success than in 2012 (Image | streetscribez.com)

However, few would bet against Fernando Alonso finally being crowned as a three time world champion as his performance this season has been quite astonishing, particularly when one takes into account the state of the Ferrari at the start of the season. Of course, Alonso’s championship lead doesn’t come without luck: his win at the European Grand Prix was certainly a case of Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull losing the race, than Alonso winning.The Spaniard will also be determined to oust Vettel from the helm of the sport – particularly after the German snatched away Alonso’s record of becoming the youngest double world champion in 2011.

In a season that has arguably been the most unpredictable in history, we cannot rule out the Red Bull drivers – particularly Mark Webber, who appears more inspired than ever to be crowned world champion. Time certainly isn’t on the side of the 35-year-old Australian, who could be ditched by Red Bull as the driver market rumour mill begins to turn. Should Red Bull provide their car with updates and begin to dominate as they did in 2011, Vettel would also have a real chance to defend his title.

Like Alonso, Hamilton is hungry for success and frustrated at having to wait for what many believe to be an overdue second championship. After his entry into Formula One was well-chronicled by the media – with many dubbing him as the star of the future - Hamilton fell victim to uncompetitive machinery and undesirable personal circumstances in the past couple of seasons, but on his day, the Stevenage-born superstar is faster than anyone and is certainly not out of the title race just yet.

Whichever driver is crowned as world champion at the end of the season, it won’t be without drama and spectacle as the best drivers in the world are poised to go head to head in circumstances which have never been more unpredictable.

Have your say | Tweet the author | @billysexton

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