Going into the last race of the season neither Mclaren or Ferrari can relax. With both the drivers and constructors championships still up for grabs, neither team can afford to give points away to the other. And so far this season both have shown they have struggled to handle pressure.
Unlike in 2007 both Mclaren and Ferrari have given away points by the bucket load this season. This is why we have seen seven race winners compared to just the four last year.
So it seems unlikely that this weekend either team will run flawless races. Mclaren for example have had faultless team work and pit work this year but have sometimes struggled on the driver front.
There is no doubt that Mclaren have been able to outstrip Ferrari in the pit crew department after the debacles in Valencia and Singapore and sometimes strategy and set up(Silverstone and Germany). This is an area that Mclaren must rely upon to get right, if only to pressure Ferrari into an error which could guarantee at least one championship.
Unsurprisingly Mclaren have aimed for the driver championship rather than the constructors to be secured in Brazil, with Lewis Hamilton sven points clear in the drivers standings. Hamilton needs only a lowly fifth place in order to take his first world championship, meaning he can afford to allow the Ferrari's, Alonso, and Kubica through if necessary.
This effectively means that the possibility of Kubica or Alonso hampering Hamilton's race is pretty much nullified should all go to plan.
This should be simple in a car which has been the most reliable over the last two seasons. Hamilton must drive a precise, consistent and conservative race and this seems to be the goal of the Mclaren team, to prevent Hamilton from taking any unnecessary risks, Ron Dennis being particularly vocal in his attempts to keep stability in the team:
"Whether we win the championship or finish second, everyone has already done a fantastic job to take us from where we were 12 months ago to where we are now: in contention for the championship" (Autosport.com).
This is obviously to help relieve some of the pressure off Lewis Hamilton who not only has the whole of the United Kingdom (and its media) expecting him to take victory but also a hungry team which has not taken a championship in almost a decade. Dennis's comments, the calming words of a man whom Lewis has always looked up to, are meant to try and relax the team (and Lewis) in the face of taking Mclaren's first championship since 1999.
This need to relax Hamilton is because Lewis has been a bit erratic when it comes to pressure situations. There is of course the incident last year in Brazil but also Canada where he forgot about the red light in his hurry to rejoin the track, and also Bahrain after being slow away off the grid.
This is not to say that Hamilton has driven poorly, quite the contrary on his day few could touch him, but when he has been on the back foot Hamilton has struggled. Magny-Cours was a rather tame showing by the usually aggressive Britain for example and in Malaysia he seemed less inspired to fight back than his team mate Heikki Kovalainen.
Such mistakes have cost Hamilton dearly and Mclaren are fully aware of not taking any result for granted:
"Obviously, my aim for Brazil is slightly different from the other grands prix: I don't need to win the race, but that won't stop me from going into the weekend looking to be as strong as possible," Lewis Hamilton (Autosport.com)
We have heard this before from Hamilton that he will attack, attack, attack and this strategy has not paid off. At the Nurburging 2007 Mclaren and Hamilton took that strategy after the restart by placing Hamilton on dry tyres too early. This got Hamilton lapped and ended his chances of points, and of course this aggressive strategy saw him slide off in China.
This has led Mclaren to try and play down the situation because of Hamilton's past response to pressure. This is not helped however by comments made by Ex-Jordan owner Eddie Jordan:
"If he (Massa) tries that on then Lewis has to turn his wheel into Massa to ensure he does not finish the race either—he has to take his wheel off." (Autosport.com)
Jordan's remarks are absolutely ridiculous mainly because Massa's aim is not only to win the world championship but also to win his home race, the dream of any Brazilian since the late great Ayrton Senna passed away.
This moves me on to Ferrari who have so far been less vocal (to my knowledge) during the build up to this pivotal weekend. If anything this could be down to its recent skirmish with the FIA over the engine standardisation issue but unlike Mclaren, Ferrari have not been constantly claiming the need to be calm.
This is of course because Ferrari can attack for the drivers championship and still have a fairly good chance in the constructors (being 11 points clear in the championship). Seven points will be enough for the championship. In that respect Ferrari have a lot less to lose because if a Mclaren should retire then the constructors would be Ferrari's.
While if Raikkonen retires Massa would only have to finish second to take the constructors and would still have a chance to beat Hamilton. In essence Mclaren must perform in both championships in order to be sure of the drivers championship and have an outside chance in the constructors.
But the pressure is not so much on Massa and Raikkonen (Massa has claimed he feels no pressure which however does seem unlikely), but the team. So far one could argue that Massa in particular has driven very well and has probably been the most consistent driver this season.
However many times this year the car or the team has let him down. Australia and Hungary saw Massa have mechanical problems. While the team put his certain victory in danger in Valencia, and did take victory away in Singapore with shaky pitstops.
It seems unlikely that Felipe, despite many claims of pressure starting to affect his performance, will not win Sunday's race. If the car is reliable and the team don't make any mistakes he will almost certainly taste the winner's champagne looking at the last two years and his dominance of the Sao Paulo circuit. 2006 for example was a race in which he finally showed the spark that attracted Ferrari in the first place.
However Massa will have to race harder than Hamilton in order to take the drivers championship. Obviously because of the points difference but also to prove himself as a future championship contender should he fail this weekend.
In one respect like Eddie Irvine in 1999 this could be Massa's one and only chance for the title, as Raikkonen will almost certainly improve from 2009 onwards and become Ferrari No. 1 once again. The pressure is somewhat on Massa as it is unsure whether he will get a chance to challenge for the championship after this year.
It is obvious therefore that Massa can't take the championship from Hamilton by simply winning the race. Only Hamilton can take the championship away from himself. All the Ferrari driver can do is win and hope that Hamilton cracks, or less likely, the Mclaren team or car. In this respect Hamilton is the favourite but as I said at the beginning of this article this weekend is all about pressure, pressure is on both drivers and the pressure will tell.
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