Ferrari is flirting with missing out on the highly-coveted 2008 Formula 1 laurels by not instructing Kimi Raikkonen to support the title challenge of team-mate Felipe Massa, one of the sport's eminent former world champions has argued.

The Scuderia has repeatedly insisted that reigning title-winner Raikkonen remains free to defend his crown until he is no longer in contention - an approach completely at odds with that of when Michael Schumacher raced for the team, when the German seven-time world champion was invariably afforded undisputed number one status at Maranello.

With Raikkonen to all intents and purposes out of play, however - and admitting himself that he needs a 'miracle' in order to retain his hard-won trophy [see separate story - click here] - Emerson Fittipaldi has warned Ferrari that it is running the risk of gift-wrapping the glory to McLaren-Mercedes, who he says threw away the world drivers' championship by dint of employing a similar 'equal opportunities' strategy last year.

"Ferrari are making a mistake by splitting the points between Felipe and Kimi," 61-year-old Fittipaldi told British newspaper The Sun. "Sometimes Kimi takes points off Felipe and sometimes [it's] the other way round. It's the mistake McLaren made last year with Lewis [Hamilton] and Fernando Alonso."

"Only when I no longer have a mathematical chance will I be totally at the service of the team," Raikkonen is quoted as having said by Motorsport Aktuell, notwithstanding the gaping 21-point deficit separating him from Hamilton and 20 from Massa, with only 40 remaining up for grabs between now and season's end.

Both Hamilton and Alonso ultimately fell short of the crown by a sole point apiece at the end of the 2007 campaign, and while Fittipaldi tips the former to gain his revenge by lifting the laurels twelve months on, he maintains that it is the Spaniard who is still the best driver in the top flight.

"Fernando is the most complete driver," the 1972 and 1974 world champion contended, "because he is experienced, knows how to set up a car and is doing incredible things with a difficult Renault. He showed in the first race in Australia, and then again at Spa, that he is still capable of driving a grand prix car faster than anyone.

"Lewis is always very fast and aggressive on the track and always drives at 100 per cent, but at times you have to drive at 101 per cent without making a mistake - and that's the difference between winning and losing a world championship.

"It's a very small difference, but [one] with a very big result. With more experience Lewis will be able to drive at the same speed but not make mistakes.

"My heart says Felipe [will win the championship], because he is Brazilian and he has grown up a lot this year in terms of mental structure to cope with pressure, but realistically it will be Hamilton.

"I think both he and McLaren will be more consistent than Felipe and Ferrari. Lewis has been competitive in every grand prix this year. He nearly won the championship last year, and I sense that he really doesn't want to lose it this year."

Fittipaldi also singled out surprise Italian Grand Prix winner Sebastian Vettel as the next man to take F1 by storm - hailing the young German's Monza performance as 'very impressive' - and gave words of support to under-fire compatriot Nelsinho Piquet, who has endured an at times trying rookie season in the uppermost echelon with Renault.

"I was at Monza and on all three days - throughout practice, qualifying and the race - the rainy conditions were very difficult," the 61-year-old explained, "but Vettel never made one mistake. It was very impressive.

"It has been hard on Nelsinho [this year], but he has responded well and he is overcoming the pressure that is put on him by his name. He drove for me in A1GP a couple of years ago, and I know he is very capable."

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