The first ever Singapore Grand Prix could influence the F1 title battle in many ways.
But one of the most interesting changes could be in the role the team mates of championship leaders Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Robert Kubica have to play in the subsequent races.
Any one of their team mates – Heikki Kovalainen, Kimi Raikkonen and Nick Heidfeld – could be out of the championship running by Monday morning.
57 points, 21 behind Hamilton*
Raikkonen’s title hopes are over if he fails to score at Singapore and Hamilton or Massa wins. Raikkonen hasn’t scored in the last three races and hasn’t won a race since the Spanish Grand Prix in April.
Since finishing ninth at Monza and falling 20 points behind team mate Massa, conflicting remarks have come from Ferrari about whether he will be expected to support his team mate – and whether he will comply.
Asked if he would support Massa over the final four rounds Raikkonen answered: “I don’t know. We will see what happens.” He later admitted he hasn’t given up on winning the title yet:
It’s not over yet, but now it will take a miracle, one that makes lightning strike twice. I will never forget what happened last year and I want to repeat it again.
Given the astonishing deficit he overcame in the final races of last season you can’t blame him. But team boss Stefano Domenicali seems to be leaning towards Massa:
I’ve always said that our main interest is the team. Of course, that’s the most important thing and the drivers know it. At this moment, at this stage, you can see that we haven’t, in our situation, taken away points from one or the other, and for sure, considering from now up to the end of the season, in the way that it’s possible to do, of course Kimi will do his best to be as aggressive as possible but also consider the fact that Felipe is much closer to the leader, Lewis.
51 points, 27 behind Hamilton
Part of Ferrari’s concern about getting Raikkonen to help Massa is probably motivated by Kovalainen being further behind Hamilton.
In fact before Monza he was even further behind, but took six points off his team mate and probably postponed the date when he will be expected to support Hamilton’s title bid by one more race. That could prove crucial.
Kovalainen has repeatedly denied he was required to support Hamilton from the beginning of the season, often quoted as saying ‘[Hamilton] doesn’t need my help’, and similar.
But McLaren won’t hesitate to use Kovalainen to support Hamilton’s title bid once he is mathematically incapable of winning the title himself, just as Ferrari did with Massa last year. That will happen if Hamilton takes three points off his team mate or if Massa beats Kovalainen by four points.
53 points, 25 behind Hamilton
Heidfeld is Mr Consistency: he’s finished every race since France last year and if he does 55 laps around the Singapore Marine Bay on Sunday he’ll break Michael Schumacher’s record for most consecutive finishes.
Heidfeld, 11 points off Kubica, is closer to his team mate than the other two ‘number twos’ are to their. But there’s an air of tension in the team as Mario Theissen postpones confirmation of BMW’s driver line-up for 2009, presumably while he checks Fernando Alonso’s terms and conditions.
Meanwhile Kubica is pressing the team to seize the initiative, stop worrying so much about 2009, and throw its weight behind his title effort this year. With the BMW not quite on McLaren/Ferrari pace on a clear day, Kubica probably needs that kind of support more keenly than Hamilton or Massa.
If Heidfeld loses five points to Hamilton or six to Massa this weekend his championship chances are over. We’ll be keeping a close eye on these developments and more during the F1 Fanatic Live Blogs.
*These calculations are based on the championship standings prior to Lewis Hamilton’s appeal against his Belgian Grand Prix penalty. Were Hamilton to get his win back, his title lead over Raikkonen would increase to 25 points. Kovalainen and Heidfeld would be 31 behind, as Heidfeld’s race classification at Spa would change from second to third.
Which F1 drivers do you think will be out of the championship running after this weekend?