Felipe Massa is the favourite to prevail in the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship – and he will deserve it. That is the view of BMW-Sauber stars Robert Kubica and Christian Klien as the season showdown closes in.
Massa currently sits six points adrift of McLaren-Mercedes pace-setter Lewis Hamilton in the title chase, but it is the Ferrari ace who is undoubtedly the form driver of the moment, having proven to be the man to beat in each of the last two outings, and who indeed would now be sitting atop the points table had it not been for his agonising late-race retirement from the lead in the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest when he was almost in sight of the chequered flag.
What's more, the Brazilian – who throughout 2006 played a dutiful supporting role to record-breaking seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher at the Scuderia
– has triumphed on four occasions from the opening twelve races, the same tally as Hamilton.
He leads defending F1 World Champion team-mate Kimi Raikkonen eight-four in qualifying, and by seven points in the drivers' standings, as the circus arrives at Spa-Francorchamps for the Belgian Grand Prix this weekend.
“I said at the beginning of the year that if I had to put money [on someone], I would put it on Massa – and I will stick to that,” Kubica – himself still an outside contender for the laurels at just 15 points adrift of Hamilton – is quoted as having said by British newspaper the Guardian
. “I think most people don't realise that he is really doing a very good job.
“I think in the past – and also starting this season – he made quite a lot of mistakes, but lately he is really consistent and very quick in both qualifying and the races, so I think he has everything to fight for in the championship.
“I think as a driver Felipe has made massive progress and he's showing it. To put Kimi in trouble is not easy, and he has done it. Okay, in some races Kimi is still quicker, but lately Felipe has been more often in front of him and with quite big gaps.”
Kubica himself has been tipped for a future in scarlet – possibly as early as 2010 – but the Pole denied any knowledge of such talk, whilst simultaneously refusing to commit his future to BMW for next season.
“It's the first time I hear this,” the 23-year-old insisted of the speculation linking him to Maranello, before adding of his whereabouts in 2009: “I don't know; we will see. I don't see a need to hurry.”
Massa similarly received the backing, meanwhile, of the Munich and Hinwil-based concern's test driver Christian Klien, who predicted the remainder of the championship would turn into a two-horse race between the São Paulo native and Hamilton.
“I think Massa will get better in the last part of the season and be very strong,” the Austrian – a former racer in the top flight for both Red Bull Racing and Jaguar – told the Credit Suisse emagazine
. “There are some circuits on which the Ferrari is stronger than the McLaren, and Massa has also shown that he can perform at a consistent level this year.
“He is certainly a very hot candidate, and at this point I would actually tip him to win it.”