Lewis Hamilton has the 'upper hand' and deserves the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship slightly more than Ferrari rival Felipe Massa - that is the view of the pair's competitors as the crucial Interlagos showdown dawns this weekend.

Hamilton enters the Brazilian Grand Prix with a seven-point advantage over Massa in the drivers' standings, but then he carried the exact same margin over the Brazilian's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen at the same stage last year - and still ended up missing out on the laurels by a single point to the Finn when the chequered flag fell.

Though his peerless Chinese Grand Prix victory would seem to suggest the nerves and over-enthusiasm that blighted both the McLaren-Mercedes star's 2007 showing in S?o Paulo and Japanese Grand Prix outing at Fuji Speedway earlier this month are now a thing of the past, Massa has argued that the pressure is all on the Briton this weekend. Not so, suggests David Coulthard.

"The pressure is on Felipe in that he has it all to do," the Scot - set to hang up his F1 helmet at the end of 15 seasons in the top flight this Sunday - told ITV Sport. "He has to nail qualifying and he has to win, and even then that might not be enough.

"With a seven-point lead Lewis is the most likely to achieve the championship; I think that is quite clear. He has led the championship for the majority of the season and it should be a formality.

"I think Massa is probably the most improved driver of the year. We have always known that he has speed, but some of his drives this year [have been those worthy of a champion] - notably Budapest, which ultimately he wasn't able to win, but his pass on Lewis clearly defined him as one of the most attacking drivers. It was a world-class pass.

"He's also suffered more reliability problems than Lewis has, so it would be difficult to say he doesn't deserve the championship, but equally Lewis has driven some extremely strong races and he's the real deal. Either of these guys for me are truly worthy of this world championship, so either way we'll have a deserving champion.

"You have to say Lewis has the upper hand, so I guess a consolation might be if Felipe wins the grand prix, satisfies the Brazilian crowd, and Lewis comes in with a points-scoring position. As we know, though, anything can happen, so I am as excited to know the outcome as everyone else."

Someone else who may be making his farewell appearance at Interlagos is Rubens Barrichello, the most experienced driver in F1 history but a man still unclear about his future given Honda's repeated refusal to comment on its 2009 line-up.

The 36-year-old - who insists he is 'hopeful' about still being on the starting grid for what would be his 17th season in the top flight next year [see separate story - click here] - is similarly eagerly anticipating the d?nouement of one of the most thrilling campaigns in recent memory.

"I think it has been an exciting year," the S?o Paulista enthused. "It has had its ups and downs, but they have been fighting for a long period in quite good battles and I think it is going to be a very good ending. Sunday, as far as I can see, may be a wet day, so I think it is going to be really nice for the Brazilians to see how things come out.

"Like DC said, Lewis has the upper-hand. Thankfully, Felipe, as I have said before, has great chances to win the race which the Brazilians are really hopeful for. It is the only thing he can aim for. He has to win the race and not worry too much about the rest. As a Brazilian I am really proud that we have the decision once again here, as I think Brazilians deserve that.

"I think [Massa] has had a fantastic year. After three races, if we remember, you guys wanted to change him because he had zero points. We all knew that he could win races and be fighting for the championship - and it was what he did. He won two consecutive races and he was back into the championship.

"For someone to do that, it means that you need to be mentally-prepared to go through the bad phases and learn, so I think he's done superbly and he comes to this final race in the same position as Kimi last year.

"It is a mission impossible but, like I said before, he has to win the race to have any chance and that's what he has to aim for. I don't think he has to go thinking of championships or things like that. He has to race just like any other race."

Those sentiments were echoed by countryman Nelsinho Piquet, who himself entered the 2006 GP2 Series finale at Monza in Italy needing almost a miracle to prevent Hamilton from clinching the championship crown. Though that miracle ultimately never materialised, the Renault rookie insisted that 'anything' remains possible.

"There's nothing much you can do really," the 23-year-old acknowledged. "You have to enter the weekend as a normal weekend. If you start entering the weekend with different thoughts or different methods or a different way of thinking, it [will] not be.

"It's like every weekend. Every weekend you enter a race to win, to try to do your best, to try to perform, to try to be at your top level - obviously you have a bit more pressure, but it's not because it's a championship-deciding weekend that you're going to enter it differently.

"I think anything's possible, as we saw last year with Kimi winning the championship. I think Felipe has done a very good job this year. As David said, he has been improving a lot and he showed this year that he's clearly also fighting for the title. He has one of the best cars and he has been driving very well.

"If I had to quote odds as to who will win the race, I think Felipe has more of a chance of winning the race - being at home, knowing the track very well and being very confident here. He has already won a race here and he knows it would make everybody very happy if he won the race, but Lewis will also be very strong, probably as quick as Felipe.

"Basically Lewis will have to take it very calmly the whole weekend. He doesn't need to push for anything, he just needs to score a few points and that's it. I think the driver that manages to keep the calmest and keep it the most natural possible [is] going to do the best job.

"At the end of the story, we don't know if it's going to rain or if it's going to be dry. It may be a hectic race on Sunday. I think both of them have done a very good job this year. They both deserve it, so I think it's just up to Sunday when we see what's going to happen."

ITV-F1 commentator Martin Brundle, meanwhile, argues that Hamilton has done enough this season to prove he merits the title - but only just.

"Lewis should have won last year," the former McLaren and Benetton star underlined in an interview with ITV Sport, "and some of his drives this season have been almost beyond belief for potentially the youngest F1 champion of all time.

"Felipe has put in some stunning drives [too]. He's also had his share of lacklustre performances, but he has stepped up to the plate when it matters and I wouldn't regard him as a lucky world champion by any means. In fact he's been unlucky with unreliability and pit-stops, whereas Lewis has had reliability but somewhat more than his fair share of penalties.

"I think both of them would be worthy champions, but on balance Lewis deserves it more in my view."

"Hamilton's had a very good season," agreed Red Bull Racing ace Mark Webber, writing in his BBC Sport column. "I think the best driver probably is going to win the championship, and that's how it should be. He'll deserve it if he wins it.

"You could say, though, that Robert Kubica has been the driver of the year. He's probably been, at every single venue, the best and most consistent driver with the least errors - but out of Hamilton and Massa, I'd say Lewis deserves the championship."


Join the conversation - Add your comment

Please login or register to add your comment