Friday, 31 October 2008

Brazilian Grand Prix: Preview

So, this is it. After a year dogged by the usual fair share of self-inflicted controversy in which occasionally some racing broke out, some of it sensationally good and some just plain sensational, it all boils down to this. Two men and two teams with the fate of the championships in their hands. 71 laps of Sao Paulo's Interlagos circuit to decide that fate.

Hamilton heads into the weekend with the title tantalisingly close to his grasp. Just as with last year's dramatic season finale, the task in front of him seems all too easy. But we all know what happened 12 months ago, and Hamilton will surely have those thoughts weighing heavily on his mind throughout the weekend. He only has to finish in 5th place and the title will be his regardless of other results, but anything can happen in motor racing, and this seemingly simplistic task could easily be taken out of his hands by something like a mechanical failure or puncture. Besides, we all know Hamilton is a fiercely competitive racer and not the sort to settle for 5th place, so there is always the potential for fireworks.

By contrast, Felipe Massa will be feeling comparatively little pressure. With the odds against him he knows that all he has to do is go out in front of his home fans and try to win the race. Nobody will criticise him if he fails to win the title, and if he DOES win the title the scenes of celebration will be unprecedented for the home town hero. He has nothing to lose, whereas Hamilton potentially has it all to lose.

Ferrari are comfortably ahead in the constructor's championship, and anything other than a complete disaster for Ferrari will see them claim their second WCC in a row. Realistically, McLaren will be pinning all their hopes of glory on Hamilton taking the WDC. But they will still be harbouring dreams of snatching both titles from under the noses of their arch rivals, and will be demanding a much improved showing from Heikki Kovalainen if they are to spring a surprise. Indeed, both Finnish drivers could end up being key players in both titles if team tactics come into play, although it is a role that neither will particularly relish after both having such a torrid season.

The weather has been a massive factor this season, with thrilling races at both Monaco and Silverstone and a dramatic qualifying session at Monza springing to mind. I don't think I can remember a season in which the weather has played a role so often, and the season's finale doesn't look like it's going to disappoint. Early weather predictions suggests that there will be rain at regular intervals throughout the weekend, adding further spice to the championship mix. When the rain has fallen it has been Hamilton who has been the standout driver of the field, although he and his team did make a mistake with tyre choices in the rain of Monza qualifying. Massa has struggled badly in the past with rain, particularly his humiliating experience at Silverstone this year.

You would think that on past history the rain would favour Hamilton, but all sort of strange things can happen in the wet. None more so than at Interlagos in 2003. That race was controversially started under safety car conditions such was the severity of the rain. Then an enormous crash caused by a then naive and reckless Fernando Alonso brought about a red flag. Everyone assumed Raikkonen had deservedly won the race, but that honour instead went on count back to Jordan's Giancarlo Fisichella because he was last to pit, despite the fact that his car was a flaming mess at the side of the road by the time the red flag came out! Goes to show that anything can happen when the heavens open...

There has been talk in the gutter press about the potential of Massa or Ferrari attempting to run Hamilton off the road or vice-versa, much of it bizarrely instigated by Eddie Jordan. However, both drivers have been quick to point out that although they will be racing as hard as ever, neither driver would want to be tarnished by using any kind of underhand tactics to win the title. And quite right too.

Regardless of which way the championship is concluded, there is sure to be an incredible story and incredible scenes at the chequered flag. Either we will have the most talked about and most hyped man in motor sport becoming the youngest F1 champion in history, or we will have the underdog from Brazil winning the title on his home circuit, sparking off incredible scenes from the passionate Brazilian fans. Either way, it could be epic...

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