Sunday, November 2, 2008

Hamilton or Massa?

Much like last year, this last race of the 2008 F1 season sees McLaren's Lewis Hamilton entering the race with a 7-point lead over his championship rival in the rosso corsa car of Ferrari; but only this time, it'll be Felipe Massa he'll be racing against for the championship, and not Kimi Räikkönen.

In last year's Brazilian Grand Prix, when practically everyone was proclaiming Lewis Hamilton to be the next driver's champion owing to the aforementioned 7-point lead over Kimi Räikkönen and the fact that he was on P2 on the starting grid, Kimi proved everyone wrong by winning the race to claim the championship for himself. But then again, that only happened because Hamilton "sabotaged" his own race; first, because he was slow in getting off the starting line, and second, because his gearbox malfunctioned, effectively slowing him down for 30 seconds - just enough time for most of the cars on the grid to pass him. Relegated to 18th and needing to finish in fifth to claim the championship, poor Lewis could only manage to salvage a seventh-place finish, thereby giving Kimi the title.

But this season, with a year's experience under his belt and his heartbreaking championship loss a reminder of what he could've been as F1's very first rookie champion, Hamilton has taken on a more relaxed air, saying that missing out on this year's championship won't be a disaster. Hard to believe when so many expect so much of him, to be so close to winning it all yet finding yourself to be the bridesmaid and not the bride for two years in a row is unthinkable.

As for Felipe Massa, the pressure has never been greater as the Brazilian seeks to claim the championship in the very last race of the season which also happens to be his home race. After Ayrton Senna's untimely death in the 1994 San Marino GP, no other Brazilian driver has come this close to winning the championship. And surely, the chance to win it all and celebrate his triumph in front of his countrymen is a great incentive for Massa. But that's a double-edged sword as, surely, the idea of failing to seal the win in his home race lurks at the back of his mind.

Fortunately for Massa, sitting on pole gives him an added advantage as separating him from Hamilton's MP4-23 is Toyota's Jarno Trulli and, most importantly, his teammate, Räikkönen. And as everyone who's been watching F1 for some time knows, issuing team orders is not an unfamiliar concept in Ferrari, so to see Räikkönen acting as a buffer for Massa against Hamilton won't be a surprising sight. And since they'll both be fighting for position, some fireworks between the two are to be expected. After all, Kimi's notoriously fast while Hamilton has proven to be great in overtaking his competitors.

Driving for Ferrari, Massa's races in Brazil has been exceptionally well, with a win in 2006 and second-place finishes in the following years after. But then again, with a wet Brazilian GP being forecasted, and with the wet weather being Massa's Waterloo, Hamilton just might win it all. After all, he's not being called F1's newest Rain Master after Michael Schumacher for nothing, and his masterful display of control in this year's British GP is proof enough of that.

Still, in a race where there's so much on the line, the fireworks - or the lack of it, for that matter - that we all have to be looking out for would be the ones coming from the stewards. They've been in the middle of so many controversial decisions this season, to see them hand out another questionable and unpopular decision that would meddle in the championship standings is the last thing F1 needs.

But who knows? In the end, Massa just might rip out the fueling rig again or Hamilton might trip up his transmission to cost either one the championship.

But all I really want is a good, clean race. And if the race is going to be decided by the stewards, I just hope that, for once, they DO make the right decision. After all, in the end, after all has been said and done, it's the fans who should be the winners.

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