The McLaren team has admitted that it will find itself caught between two stools at next weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix, determined to take the safe route towards delivering Lewis Hamilton a maiden world title, but equally keen to do all it can to overturn Ferrari's advantage in the constructors' championship.

With back-to-back retirements for Heikki Kovalainen in Japan and China, accompanied by Hamilton's non-score at Fuji, McLaren has allowed the Scuderia to extend an eleven-point cushion in the teams' competition, and CEO Martin Whitmarsh admits that it now faces something of a dilemma at Interlagos.

Hamilton needs only to finish fifth or better to take the world title he came so close to landing in his rookie campaign in 2007, and Whitmarsh admits that McLaren will be trying to curb the Briton's natural instincts to try and win from the front. However, he also concedes that doing 'just enough' to land the individual crown could have an adverse effect on its attempts to beat Ferrari on both fronts.

"Clearly, we can afford to be more conservative than normal in our approach to Lewis' race, but we are still pushing to win the constructors' championship and it would be wrong of us as a team to overlook this fact," Whitmarsh acknowledged, "There are 18 points available in Brazil and there's no reason why we can't take forward the pace and form we showed in China to achieve a one-two in Brazil.

"As a result, we do have a number of minor aerodynamic upgrades in the pipeline that we are evaluating for inclusion on our Brazil-spec car. As with every race this season, we have brought something to the car - even if it has only been generating a few extra hundredths of lap time - and it would be wrong of us to close down that option for Interlagos."

Kovalainen's problems - an engine failure in Japan and badly fading brakes in China - underline the harsh reality that Hamilton's dreams could so easily be derailed by unreliability. Although the MP4-23 has proven to be more robust than its counterpart from Maranello this season, that was also generally accepted in 2007, only for Hamilton to suffer a 'gearbox glitch' at Interlagos that opened that door for Kimi Raikkonen to complete a comeback from 17 points behind with two rounds to go.

Without being complacent, Whitmarsh insists that McLaren is confident that both of its cars will be prepared to their usual high standards in an effort to prevent a repeat of last year's disappointment.

"Of course, we are keenly aware that the world championship could be won or lost by a mechanical failure," he accepted, "As a result, we are leaving no stone unturned in our efforts to minimise this possibility. For example, that meant consciously turning down Lewis's engine on the run to the flag in China in order to give him plenty of engine life for Brazil."

While both Ferraris will be fitted with fresh engines for Interlagos, the regulations do not allow Hamilton - who has enjoyed solid Mercedes-Benz reliability this year - to play his 'joker' in Brazil, which means he will be subjected to the usual ten-place grid penalty if his motor fails after Friday practice.

"Regrettably, yes - but we don't foresee this being an issue," Whitmarsh confirmed, "Lewis's engine will be on its second race in Sao Paulo, while Heikki will use a brand new V8, so we can balance the two approaches to engine life.

"In terms of gearbox life, Lewis' will be on race three while Heikki will start the weekend with a new 'box, but the level of reliability inherent in the gearbox means we anticipate fewer problems in this area."

Hamilton described his car as 'near perfect' after romping away from the two Ferraris in Shanghai, but Whitmarsh, while optimistic that McLaren can provide the Briton with another front-running machine, is aware that performance can vary from track to track without the team really knowing why.

"The reality is that we strive to make the MP4-23 well-balanced in every race but, sometimes, we are able to achieve better results at certain tracks than at others," he conceded, "While both drivers and their engineers worked hard to bounce back as convincingly as possible from the disappointments of Fuji, the groundwork had already been done back at the McLaren Technology Centre and at Mercedes-Benz HighPerformanceEngines.

"The engineers were able to provide the race team with a very focused set of performance parameters around which they were able to refine the car for the racetrack with the minimum of difficulty.

"And that's the approach we will take into Brazil next week - methodical and iterative analysis and evaluation of the data to eliminate the rogue variables that could distract from our core focus. It may not sound exciting, but it's the number-crunching that ultimately allows you to win races."