Tom Clarkson's 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix preview

Published: 31 October 2008

Brazil is mad for this world title showdown. Pictures of Felipe Massa adorn the sides of buildings throughout Sao Paulo; Paulistas walk the streets wearing counterfeit Ferrari F1 t-shirts and even the presenters of the city’s biggest breakfast television programme were wearing Ferrari overalls this morning. If Felipe does it on Sunday, the place will go nuts.

As was the case last year, the odds are stacked in Lewis Hamilton’s favour. His seven-point lead going into this race means that he has to finish fifth or better to bag the title. Sounds easy, maybe, but there are many potential pitfalls, starting with reliability. His Mercedes V8 is on its second race weekend, as per the two-race engine rules, whereas Felipe has a fresh Ferrari in the back of his F2008.

Interlagos is a tricky and technically demanding track. Being 800m above sea level, the reduced atmospheric pressure causes a seven percent loss in horsepower and places an even greater emphasis on aerodynamic efficiency. Both Ferrari and McLaren are strong in this area, but McLaren have introduced a new rear wing this weekend to bolster the performance of their MP4-23.

At just 73 seconds, the track also has the shortest lap time of the year. The smallest of errors in qualifying can result in a driver dropping a couple of rows on the grid, so both title protagonists will need to be inch-perfect behind the wheel. They can’t afford to be conservative either because there will be plenty of other drivers in the mix: Fernando Alonso (Renault) and Robert Kubica (BMW) expect to be quick and Kimi Raikkonen, in the second Ferrari, will be a thorn in Lewis’s side all weekend.

There has been some chat in the F1 paddock about third parties being told to take out Lewis in the race. The rumours were started by Alonso, who stated yesterday that he’d like “any team other than McLaren to win the title”, but such an outcome is surely unthinkable. Can you imagine the backlash?

So, good luck to you, Lewis. You’ll get a hostile reception on the grid on Sunday, but ignore the banging drums, the pro-Massa signs and the verbal abuse. This is your moment to step up to the plate.

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By Tom Clarkson

F1 correspondent, BBC pitlane man, accesser of all areas, head beans-spiller