Kimi Raikkonen can win this year's world title without needing the McLaren pairing to run into reliability problems, but would need Ferrari team-mate Felipe Massa to play ball and support his assault.

The Finn would also need to replicate his Belgian Grand Prix form from the weekend, as point calculations confirm that a repeat of the finishing order from Spa-Francorchamps - where Raikkonen headed Massa, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton in the top four - in each of the remaining races would lead to the Ferrari driver taking the title by a single point at Interlagos. Moreover, Alonso would also pip current leader Hamilton by a single point, creating the closest top three finish ever in the world championship.

Although Massa still harbours his own title ambitions - the Brazilian is 20 points off Hamilton's lead with a maximum of 30 on offer before the end of the campaign - his hopes are fading faster than anyone left in the fight, and it may be that, despite Jean Todt's protestations that Ferrari will remain impartial, he is asked to back up his team-mate's efforts.

That belief is given greater credence by reports of a division in the ranks at Maranello, where Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo is rumoured to be tiring of Todt's efforts to land the crown and could marginalise the Frenchman at the end of the year, possibly facilitating the return of Ross Brawn into the bargain. If that is true, Todt will surely pull out all the stops to ensure that Raikkonen has the best chance of being champion, including asking Massa - ironically, son Nicolas' number one prot?g? - to
play rear-gunner to the Finn in the events at Fuji, Shanghai and Interlagos, all circuits where the F2007 should be strong.

McLaren, meanwhile, is left in a more difficult position, not only having to get its MP4-22 back on terms with the Ferraris, but also having to give equal treatment to Hamilton and Alonso, especially after the outcome in Paris last week. With Alonso providing evidence to the World Motor Sport Council hearing into the espionage affair and Hamilton claiming he had nothing to offer, any sign of favouritism towards the Briton could be misconstrued - especially in a situation where Alonso feels out of place at Woking. Just two points separate the pair at the head of the table, making it difficult for the team to opt for one or other pilot even at this late stage in the campaign.

Outsiders still consider Alonso the favourite to take the title, despite the deficit, and the Spaniard's case is strengthened by the fact that Hamilton has yet to race on any of the circuits remaining - although, admittedly, Fuji remains a mystery to everyone. Hamilton, however, prides himself on being a quick learner and no-one would expect him to be at a disadvantage come race day. How the youngster's nerve holds up to the tension of the fight, however, remains to be seen. There were suggestions that his driving was 'tighter' as Spa, lacking the freedom and fluidity of the unpressured opening rounds, while Alonso already has experience of two title campaigns to call on.

Whichever way it plays out, this will surely be among the most gripping climaxes to a Formula One world championship for some time..

Can long-time championship leader Lewis Hamilton take the pressure of a three-way title fight? Record your vote HERE

 

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