Speculation has emerged in Austin, Texas that Ferrari is considering a gearbox change for Felipe Massa's car.

That would incur a five place starting grid penalty for the start of this afternoon's 2012 F1 United States Grand Prix at the Circuit of the Americas.

But crucially, it would drop Massa down from sixth to 11th place on the grid, which would put both him and crucially his team mate Fernando Alonso on the cleaner side of the track for the start of the race - an advantage estimated to be worth two or more positions at the start because of the lack of grip off the racing line.

"Red Bull's analysis suggests that the blunted acceleration resulting from the extra wheelspin would cost the equivalent of three grid rows," said a report in this morning's Sunday Times newspaper.

At the same time, it would also put Massa behind Alonso on the grid. Alonso is bidding to stay in the world championship battle with Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel, and the team will almost certainly deploy team orders during the race to ensure Massa gives way to him after the start.

Alonso is currently due to start from eighth place on the grid, which like Massa puts him on the dirty, dusty side of the track. If Massa were to incur a gearbox change grid position penalty, then Alonso would move up a position and start from seventh place instead, significantly helping his prospects of keeping the championship battle alive going into the 2012 season finale next weekend at Interlagos in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Ferrari's team spokesman would not confirm whether or not the gearbox change will take place: "We are evaluating the situation right now," he said.

With no clear reason being given for the consideration of a gearbox change other than an "unspecified problem" with the existing unit, speculation is rife that Ferrari are contemplating the move based purely on the tactical and strategic advantage it might give Alonso.

However, other teams may respond in kind with other newly-discovered "gearbox issues" coming to light if Ferrari were to go ahead with such a move, which is likely to be highly controversial.