Despite calls for the Finn to back him over the remaining six races of 2008, Felipe Massa insists that Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen could be his biggest rivals at this weekend's Belgian Grand Prix.
Massa currently sits second in the world championship standings, six points behind Lewis Hamilton and seven clear of Raikkonen, but refuses to rule the Finn out of contention, either at Spa-Francorchamps or on the run-in to the end of the season.
The Brazilian's fears are well-founded, for Raikkonen has remained unbeaten in F1 machinery at Spa since 2004, and staged a remarkable comeback last season to snatch the crown from under the noses of both Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, despite lagging 17 points adrift heading in to the final two races. However, Ferrari's recent record in the Ardennes gives him the confidence to suggest that it is the Finn that will be his biggest opposition this weekend, allowing both to peg back vital points on the McLaren team leader.
"Last year, I finished second in Belgium and, in the past, I had a fourth place when I was driving for Sauber," Massa reflected, "I have particularly good memories of last year, when we had a competitive car and the team got a one-two finish, so I hope we can repeat that performance and have a car that is good enough to keep ahead of the McLarens which, of course, is our main target at the moment.
"However, I will also be hoping to be ahead of my team-mate - but Kimi has always been quick at Spa, and not just in F1, as he was also a winner here in the junior categories. He has won the last three grands prix at this track so, for sure, it won't be easy to beat him, but I am looking forward to a good battle with my team-mate. The F2008 should be competitive and our aim will be to bring home as many points as possible for the team."
Massa has established himself as potential Ferrari 'number one' in recent weeks, and should have won each of the last two grands prix, rather than just picking up the spoils in Valencia two weekends ago. A dominant performance in Hungary, where he jumped Hamilton's supposedly superior McLaren at the start and led comfortably until three laps from home, was ended prematurely when his engine let go with the chequered flag in sight, and a similar failure for Raikkonen at the European GP last time out has put Ferrari on high alert as the run-in intensifies.
"In between [Valencia and Spa], I spent two days testing at Monza and, generally, the results were positive," Massa reported, "Although my work load was aimed entirely at the Italian Grand Prix, concentrating on the demands of Monza and not really trying anything specifically for Spa, we did a lot of mileage which was important from the reliability point of view, especially on the engine front."
Although, like the majority of his rivals, Massa professes his love for Spa as a challenging 'drivers' circuit, he is all to well aware that the elements there can play an important role in the outcome of the race, and has urged his Ferrari crew - which has not always been the most tactically astute this season - to raise its game in the face of changing conditions.
"You cannot talk about Spa without mentioning the rain," he admitted, "If it's just steady rain, the track is not too difficult to deal with but, sometimes, the rain at Spa comes with fog and that makes visibility very poor and not too comfortable to drive in.