Ferrari test driver Marc Gene has admitted that either team-mate Felipe Massa or McLaren rival Lewis Hamilton would make deserving world champions this season, but for different reasons.
Hamilton heads into next weekend's showdown at Interlagos with a seven-point cushion over his Brazilian rival, and needs only fifth place or better to ensure that he takes the crown that slipped through his fingers last season. However, Gene argues that should Massa be able to reprise team-mate Kimi Raikkonen's unexpected triumph by overhauling Hamilton's advantage on home soil, he would be an equally deserving champion.
"There is no doubt that Hamilton has it in his own hands to be champion," the former Minardi and Williams racer admitted in his regular 'blog' for Spanish newspaper El Mundo
, "The fight is now a two-horse race, as it is for the constructors' title, after Robert Kubica and BMW dropped out, and Brazil will see a fascinating battle.
"If Felipe wins the title, it would be well deserved because has suffered, and overcome, mechanical problems, something that has not happened to Hamilton. Nevertheless, the Englishman also deserves the title.
"Taking the championship is now an uphill battle after his exhibition in China, and Massa can no longer just rely upon his own performance. We had expected it to be closer, but it only remains for us to congratulate Lewis, as much as McLaren, because they were a lot better [than Ferrari] in Shanghai. We had to minimised the losses and, at least, we enlarged our advantage in the constructors' championship."
The need to 'minimise the losses' became apparent when Hamilton scooted into the distance in China, but it took a concerted effort from Kimi Raikkonen to give Massa his best shot of upsetting the applecart at Interlagos, as the out-going champion backed off to the tune of two seconds a lap to allow his tardy team-mate to catch up and, eventually, assume second on the road.
The move was not precipitated by a call from the pit-wall, and had been alluded to all weekend by Raikkonen, and, as such, did not attract any criticism from the paddock. Nor should it, Gene claimed.
"The way in which Massa passed Raikkonen was not illegal," the Spaniard wrote, "The team cannot give the order so that it happens but, if the decision is taken by the driver, the manoeuvre is correct.
"Kimi has said that he knew the best interests of the team and has taken that position [in the race]. When you see situations such as this, you might think that the rule [preventing the team from giving the order] is foolish, but you have to do it that way so that it is all legal. The decision itself was logical and any team would have done the same thing."