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.