More and more, given the apparent inability of their Finnish team-mates to match their pace, Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa seem set to go head-to-head for the World Championship over the remaining six races. With a maximum of 60 points up for grabs, they are separated by just six.
Though Massa had the upper hand in Valencia on Sunday, Hamilton's seventh podium finish of the season gave him cause for optimism. "We ran two laps longer than Ferrari, which is a good indication that we had good pace all weekend," the McLaren driver said. "There was nothing between us in qualifying, and in racing they showed good pace in the stints but just towards the end he was edging away. But I'm really happy with the performance of my car. In the second stint they also refuelled me for two laps longer, which was unfortunate because even then I came out very close to him. If we'd refuelled for the same lap... But we have great reliability, and that's down to the team doing a fantastic job."
Massa said: "I'm six points behind Lewis," before adding in reference to his team-mate Kimi Raikkonen's engine failure: "But first of all we need to look at what's happened. I have no idea. We need to work very hard for the next race because it's important to fix the reliability. It's been an issue for us this year, in the first race, the last race and now this race. We need to work very deep, with everybody concentrating very hard to solve these problems."
Reliability will play a crucial part in the outcome of the battle. "It is part of the consistency we need," Massa said. "A single problem, and you are not consistent. So consistency is still the key to the championship. And that means performance and reliability. All these things will be very important to the end of the season."
Hamilton echoed his sentiments. "Reliability is the key, finishing and scoring points has got to be the goal for everybody. I'm not worried about the reliability of my car; over the last 18 months it's been phenomenal. And that means that we can focus on developing the car rather than worrying about its reliability, which is the main point."
Massa's fourth victory of the year equalled Hamilton's 2008 tally, and left him feeling as optimistic as any of the four title contenders will allow themselves to be at this stage.
"It's fantastic to be back on top," he said. "I was on top when we had the problem in Hungary, and it is so frustrating when the victory in your hand suddenly disappears with three laps left and the race is almost finished. We came here and I was on the top again, so the mentality was the same and we were even more motivated after the problem."
Hamilton is equally determined not to have a recurrence of the neck problem that affected him in Valencia. "I'm pretty sure it won't be a problem again," he said. "It was probably something to do with my pillow, and the way I was sleeping."Reuse content