Can Ferrari afford not to favour Felipe Massa?

Alex CowleyCorrespondent ISeptember 9, 2008

Apart from the Hamilton overtaking debacle, there was one other thing that was circulating around the F1 paddock (and websites) alike, would Ferrari finally decide to put all their momentum behind Massa? The answer is now a resounding yes as not only, at the time of writing, is Massa the winner of the Belgium GP but also that Felipe is a much more likely beat Hamilton to the championship.

This seems obvious now but at the beginning of the season Raikkonen seemed the firm bet . After 4 rounds Raikkonen had 2 wins, while Massa  only one. People still questioned whether Massa was consistently fast enough to challenge for a championship. Could Massa win outside Bahrain, Turkey and Brazil?

The turning point for Felipe was the Monaco GP, or mainly qualifying, where the Brazilian overcame the considerable speed of Hamilton (in the faster Mclaren), and Raikkonen who is renowned as a Monaco specialist. That, combined with his apparent dislike of the street circuit proved that Felipe was finally starting to show his speed and talent.

Massa has been the faster driver for Ferrari since Spain. Felipe has been picking up the points consistently, while Raikkonen has suffered retirement and strangely mediocre results. When usually Raikkonen could blame the car for his apparent loss of speed, Felipe has usually been excelling. In Germany for example, Raikkonen was nowhere during the race, while Massa would have come 2nd had not the safety car vaulted Nelson Piquet's Renault into the lead. Raikkonen finished 6th, the exact position he started in thus showing no progression.

After a string of misfortunes, the accident in Canada, the exhaust problem in France and the strategic misfortune in Britain, nobody would deny that Raikkonen has been unlucky this season. However it has sapped his confidence. His spin in Belgium indicated a driver who was desperate for a win, as he saw his title chances disappearing as the rain fell.

This is not to say that Massa has been perfect, but no other driver has taken such dominant wins in conditions which suit an F1 car (i.e. a dry track). Bahrain, Turkey and Europe were complete lights to flag wins, while Hungary would have been if not for the engine failure. Hamilton has had dominant victories but really has only been able to achieve them in wet conditions. Although this represents Ferrari's speed this will not play to their advantage in later races.

This is because, while Ferrari will almost certainly put their all behind Massa, Hamilton should still be favourite to take the title. Monza is next which last year was dominanted by Mclaren. Fuji and Shanghai were both circuits in which Hamilton excelled (albeit in wet conditions). Really Ferrari only seem to have a possible advantage in Singapore and Brazil. Singapore is untested and thus there is no way of knowing who will be fastest (but on the basis of Valencia, Ferrari will probably have the upper-hand). On the other hand Brazil is Massa territory, there is very little opportunity for anybody else to get a sniff at victory especially if Massa will be actively trying to win the race.

However the possibility of rain hangs like a shroud over the Ferrari campaign. If you were to go onto the BBC weather site you would see that rain is likely to affect many of the remaining races. This includes Italy, China and Brazil. This gives the Mclaren team a deadly advantage as they have so far been a lot more efficient in keeping heat in their tyres.

Thus the answer to my question is no they can't. With Massa being so far ahead of Raikkonen in the standings, with the next few races possibly favouring Mclaren it's time for Ferrari to make an executive decision. At this point it's either favour Massa, or start preparing for next year's championship.