After qualifying Massa said, “hopefully I can go to the victory.” But he surely know this is only likely as long as Raikkonen looks unable to take the title.
So what will Ferrari do in tomorrow’s title-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix?
The run to the first corner will be critical. Although Ferrari appear to have a less than optimal qualifying result – Massa first, Raikkonen third – it could easily work to their advantage. Both their cars will start on the cleaner racing line, and we have seen the benefit that provides many times this year.
The top four lined up in the same order at the Turkish Grand Prix, with the Ferraris on the favourable side of the grid. The result was that by the end of the first lap Massa led Raikkonen with Hamilton down to third, and Alonso sixth behind the two BMWs.
At Interlagos the first corners bend left, right, then a long sweep left, Hamilton therefore may be happy to stay on his side of the grid and hope to protect the inside from Raikkonen. But he may have to settle for just keeping Alonso behind him as the Ferraris sprint ahead.
If Ferrari take up first and second in the opening stages, which seems likely, they have two clear options. They could send Massa off as the ‘hare’, sprinting away from the field.
But for Raikkonen to win he needs Hamilton to finish sixth or lower, so Massa needs to either delay the McLarens (perhaps via an early pit stop that gives the lead to Raikkonen but puts Massa ahead of the McLarens) or force them to exhaust their tyres. The latter seems a likely candidate for success, as McLaren are struggling to make the softer compounds last.
Alternatively if Ferrari may try to slow the McLarens and give other cars the chance to pass them, if they feel they can do it without falling foul of the rules that ban team orders.
As cars lower down the top ten tend to carry more fuel into the final part of qualifying, slowing McLaren down early in the race could hand the Red Bulls and BMWs an advantage.
Ferrari used these tactics at Suzuka in 1997, when Eddie Irvine took the lead from Jacques Villeneuve, and held him up allowing Michael Schumacher to close in.
But that was before the ban on team orders, and whatever Ferrari may choose to do tomorrow will require a little more subtlety.
Ferrari surely wouldn’t go so far as to actually shunt Hamilton out of the race. If Massa and Hamilton both went out Raikkonen would probably only end up losing the title to Alonso anyway.
But Massa isn’t going to give Hamilton or Alonso any room if they end up dicing together…
Photo: Ferrari Media