While Hamilton had a relatively poor race in Japan, so too did Massa. Both drivers have had excellent races this year, but both have also had absolute bummers, races where they appeared to fall apart. It is for that reason that some are hoping/fearing Robert Kubica can upset the applecart and sneak up on the outside, though yesterday's qualifying performance certainly didn't help his chances.
Today, Hamilton, although starting from pole position, is surrounded by at least three other drivers with their own agendas, and one can take that any way one wishes. Much as it may hack him off, Raikkonen has to support Massa's title bid, having done relatively little to support his own. While Alonso will be keen to make it three wins in a row, the Spaniard has made no secret of how he feels about the title fight, and in particular his former McLaren teammate. Should Hamilton win the title, be it here or in Brazil, Alonso, Raikkonen and Massa will not be joining in the celebrations.
We have a sneaking suspicion that Hamilton is running lighter than his rivals, finding it difficult to truly justify his extraordinary pace for much of this weekend. We can only assume that after the debacle of the first corner at Fuji, the team wanted him ahead of the pack today at all costs.
Anyone who saw Heikki Kovalainen following yesterday's qualifying session will know that his position on the grid is not intentional, he was meant to be up there supporting Hamilton, but he failed, instead the Finn will now have his own problems, fending off the rest of the pack, including Vettel, Trulli, Kubica and two other drivers who need good results here today, Piquet and Bourdais.
The bottom line is that with a five-point advantage, Hamilton has the 2008 title within his grasp, he can only lose it. Therefore, it is imperative that he focuses one thing and thing alone today, not winning the race, but extending his points lead over Massa. Never mind going all-out today, if Hamilton achieves the right result and puts the title beyond the Brazilian's reach, he can save all the fancy stuff for Interlagos.
While we have been expecting rain, conditions are ideal. As they have been for most of the weekend. There was no rain during this morning's GP2 Asia race and officials claim that the expected showers will not appear this afternoon.
If true, this is good news for Ferrari, which has struggled in the wet this season, certainly compared to McLaren. It also means that while there will be many other battles throughout the field as drivers and teams focus on their title standings, they will not be up there causing upsets for the 'big guns'.
Following yesterday's qualifying session, Nick Heidfeld received a three-place penalty for impeding David Coulthard, while Mark Webber was already facing a ten-place penalty after having to change his engine following a major failure in the morning practice session. Consequently, Heidfeld starts from ninth today and Webber sixteenth.
The say that 'when the flag drops the bullshit stops', however, other than the fact that flags are no longer used to start Grands Prix, the fact is - on recent evidence - that this is precisely when the bullshit starts flying. Therefore, as we look ahead to today's all important race, in a week in which so much has been said, much of it nasty and bitter, in a week when Europe lost another race and in a week when F1 returned to the spotlight courtesy of Mr Tony Blair and the tobacco saga, lets hope for a championship fight worthy of the name. May the best man win, without the need to resort to gamesmanship, bully-boy tactics or the intervention of the dreaded stewards.
We need a hero, Bonnie Tyler sang, and while both the main contenders have had their ups and downs we have two races in which they can make amends, by giving us a hero our sport deserves, not the hero decided by the media, Bernie Ecclestone or the FIA.
As the cars make their way to the grid, the air temperature is 27 degrees C, while the track temperature is 30 degrees. Humidity is 64 per cent. It is overcast, the sort of creamy/grey sky we witnessed during the Beijing Olympics, but warm, with the sun breaking through in parts.
The head off on the parade lap, nobody starting from the pitlane. Hamilton is on the harder compound, like most of his rivals, however, Raikkonen is an obvious exception. The options are hard (hard) and soft (medium).
Despite the current conditions, BMW informs Kubica that rain is expected twenty minutes into the race. At which point, Race Control confirms that there is a 40 per cent chance of rain.
Hamilton leads into the first corner, with Kovalainen also getting away well, unlike the Ferraris, which are both slow off the line. Further back there's an incident involving a Trulli and Bourdais, with the Italian going off.
As Hamilton leads the Ferraris, Alonso and Kovalainen are at it hammer and tongs, the Finn briefly passing the Renault. However, the Spaniard is up for the fight and re-takes fourth. Mark Webber makes a great move on Glock.
At the end of lap 1, it's Hamilton, Raikkonen, Massa, Alonso, Kovalainen, Heidfeld, Vettel, Kubica, Piquet and Barrichello. Trulli pits for a new nose, however, there's plenty of other damage to the Toyota.
Out front, Hamilton is lapping almost a second quicker than Raikkonen, the Englishman setting a stunning pace. The rest of the field fairly strung out, other than Barrichello, who heads a train of six cars.