x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Massa's title hopes depend on others

Driver's title hopes rest in hands of others after the sport's first night race turned into a nightmare for the Ferrari driver.

Felipe Massa of Ferrari, right, looks dejected after retiring from the Singapore Grand Prix.
Felipe Massa of Ferrari, right, looks dejected after retiring from the Singapore Grand Prix.

LONDON // Felipe Massa's Formula One title hopes rest in the hands of others after the sport's first night race in Singapore turned into a nightmare for the Ferrari driver. A bungled first pit-stop, caused by a mechanic's error, robbed the Brazilian driver of victory and left him empty-handed and seven points adrift of the championship leader Lewis Hamilton of the McLaren team with three races remaining.

"Seven points to make up in three races? that can be a lot or it can be a little," Massa said, putting a brave face on his apparently dwindling prospects of becoming Brazil's first champion since the late Ayrton Senna. "We have the potential to do well and we will give it our best shot. We mustn't give up and I'm sure we won't." The cold mathematics state however that Hamilton need not win again this season to become Formula One's youngest champion at the age of 23.

Massa can lead all the way to the chequered flag in Japan, China and the grand finale in his native Brazil and still end up runner-up if his British rival follows home in second place every time. The Brazilian must hope that teammate Kimi Raikkonen, who recognised his title defence was at an end after failing to score for the fourth race in a row, can raise his game significantly. The Ferrari team boss Stefano Domenicali told reporters that perfection, for a team that has fallen far from the days when it was the slickest operation in the pit-lane, had to be the aim from now on.

"We will approach the last three races with the fact that we can do first and second every time, because we have the potential to do it," he said. That much is undeniable, with Ferrari chalking up three one-two finishes already this season and also enjoying a run of four wins in a row in the early part of the year. Raikkonen won in China and Brazil last year to take the championship by a single point but his form has deserted him, with the Finn crashing out yesterday and taking just 22 points from his last 10 races.

"I know what the team wants, they want to win the world championship and we will see what happens," he said after Sunday's race. "I'm out of the championship anyhow." While so-called 'team orders' are banned, Domenicali left little doubt about the role Raikkonen will be expected to fulfil. "I'm pretty sure he knows what he has to do and he will fight because he's part of the team, so I don't have any doubt about that," he said.

Hamilton headed for Japan last year with a two-point lead over then teammate Fernando Alonso, winner for Renault on Sunday, and 13 points clear of Raikkonen. By China, he was 12 points clear of the Spaniard and 17 ahead of the Finn. And yet the rookie still allowed the title to slip through his fingers by a single point. Massa's misfortune only served to remind him that the sport has a habit of throwing up nasty surprises and nothing can be taken for granted.

"Moving forward, I think we approach it (the next few races) the same as we have this weekend and definitely don't get ahead of ourselves because, as you can see, lots of things can happen," Hamilton said. *Reuters