Ferrari’s Shanghai switch provoked the usual debate over team orders – but it also signified a development that could have a crucial bearing on the outcome of the world championship:
Kimi Raikkonen is now the faster of the two Ferrari drivers.
Do you agree? Is this good or bad for Felipe Massa? Here’s what I think, share your ideas below.
In my Chinese Grand Prix predictions I wrote:
I’m getting an impression that Kimi Raikkonen has become the quicker of the two drivers once again. In a recent interview he said that at Spa he had gone back to an earlier setup configuration and it had improved his pace.
He was quicker than Massa at Spa (but crashed) and was very quick late in the race at Monza. At Singapore he was reeling in Massa and Hamilton when the safety car came out, then at Fuji he out-qualified Massa for the first time since the British Grand Prix.
That trend continued at Shanghai. Raikkonen out-qualified Massa again, this time with one lap’s less fuel on board. In the race, he was consistently quicker until having to yield (see the Chinese Grand Prix analysis for more information).
Has Raikkonen improved or is Massa struggling?
Why has this happened? Perhaps it’s the changes that he made at Spa. Perhaps the pressure of the championship is beginning to unsettle Massa.
This is a situation Massa hasn’t been in since he won the Formula 3000 Euro Series in 2001 – and that was a championship he won emphatically with six wins in eight races, sparing him a down-to-the-wire nail-biter like this.
Hamilton on the other hand was in the same situation last year, and won the GP2 championship at the final event in 2006.
What does this mean for the championship?
Obviously, if Massa’s not getting the most out of his car, then it makes it all the harder for him to take the fight to Hamilton.
As we saw in Shanghai Massa can expect Raikkonen to yield positions when he needs to. But he can’t expect Raikkonen to fight as hard as he would for his own title. Remember Michael Schumacher coming up short at Suzuka in 1999 when chasing Mika Hakkinen for Eddie Irvine’s benefit?
If Raikkonen proves the quicker of the two at Interlagos, how should Ferrari exploit that? Put him light on fuel to take the lead and contain Hamilton’s pace? Or fuel him up and try to out-fox Hamilton in the pit stops?
Or will Massa reverse the trend at Interlagos, where he has always been strong? He put his Sauber fourth on the grid there in 2004, won in 2006, and under normal circumstances would have won there once more last year.
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