Lewis Hamilton goes into the final round of 2008 knowing that he has the car to win the race – and that he only needs fifth place to guarantee the world championship and a place in the F1 history books.
Nothing in F1 is ever as simple as that, but there are several reasons why Hamilton should expect his McLaren to be more competitive at Interlagos than it was last year. So, how can Felipe Massa stop him winning the title?
At Shanghai McLaren – make that Hamilton – were ultra-quick, and Ferrari looked a bit lost. it wasn’t even that the race weekend was especially cold, the kind of conditions where McLaren have thrived and Ferrari have struggled this year – it just seems as though the MP4/23 has the edge on the F2008 right now.
Last year the combination of a new surface at Interlagos, exceptionally hot weather and soft tyres caused problems for the teams.
This year the surface is not such an unknown quantity, the weather is likely to be cooler, and the tyre choices are one step harder: medium and soft instead of soft and super-soft. This is more good news for McLaren.
The team is bringing a final development package for the MP4/23 to the final race including a revised rear wing. Paul di Resta tested the car at Silverstone last week.
The biggest potential weakness for Hamilton could be reliability. He hasn’t retired due to a car failure all year – or last year for that matter – but team mate Heikki Kovalainen has had two engine failures. Hamilton is no longer allowed to make a free engine change without a penalty under the rules as this is the last race of the season.
Massa already enjoys huge support from his home fans, but with a championship up for grabs he can expect an immense reception. Who knows, maybe it could even be all too much?
Apart from Istanbul, nowhere is Massa stronger than he has been at Interlagos. But he needs to be on form, because Kimi Raikkonen has been getting the better of him in recent races.
As we saw at Shanghai, Raikkonen will do what he has to to support Massa. How can Ferrari use him best at Interlagos? By fuelling him light and trying to disrupt Hamilton’s race? Or keeping him on an optimum strategy to increase his chances of taking the lead at the pit stops and controlling the race from there?
Whichever, it’s a luxury Hamilton seems not to have – Kovalainen hasn’t been in a position to hep him this year, apart from scampering out of the way at the Hockenheimring.
Massa can also rely on some help – though perhaps not too much – from Fernando Alonso. He’s been turning the psychological screw on Hamilton and admitted he gave Massa space at the start at Shanghai. But don’t expect Alonso to be so charitable if he finds himself defending a potential win from Massa…
The random element
Interlagos is not a flat, pristine, tailor-built Tilkedrome. It’s short, making traffic more of a problem, especially in the sinuous middle sector. The first sequence of corners could hardly have been better designed provoke first-lap incidents.
It’s the kind of venue where the unpredictable happens: rain falls in heavy bursts without warning (’93), back-markers and race leaders tangle (’90, ’01), mystery glitches hit McLarens and then vanish (’99, ’07). And it’s not as if Massa and Hamilton have had clean, error-free seasons…
Hamilton has the car to win. But Massa is surrounded by allies on and off the track. It might look easy for Hamilton on paper, but on Sunday it will be anything but that.
More information about the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix