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Alonso, Hamilton, Raikkonen - who is destined for glory? 15 Oct 2007

Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2007 with Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 and Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 in Parc Ferme after qualifying
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Saturday, 29 September 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Qualifying Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Saturday, 6 October 2007 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2007.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 7 October 2007 Lewis Hamilton (GBR) McLaren retires from the race.
Formula One World Championship, Rd16, Chinese Grand Prix, Race Day, Shanghai International Circuit, Shanghai, China, Sunday, 7 October 2007 Kimi Raikkonen (FIN) Ferrari F2007 ahead of Fernando Alonso (ESP) McLaren Mercedes MP4/22 
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, Japanese Grand Prix, Race Day, Fuji Speedway, Fuji, Japan, Sunday, 30 September 2007

For the first time in over 20 years, three drivers will fight it out for motorsport’s ultimate prize at the final round of the season this weekend. Lewis Hamilton is clear favourite, thanks to a four-point lead over McLaren team mate Fernando Alonso, but the odds rarely tell the whole story.

After one of the most troubled title defences in living memory, Alonso will not give in without a struggle; and then there is Kimi Raikkonen, waiting to pounce, Ferrari very much at the top of their game. But who will win? And why? We examine the factors to be considered…

Lewis Hamilton

Why he’ll win…
He’s ahead:
despite his error at the Shanghai pit entrance, consistency has been key to Hamilton’s campaign and his lead means he needs the fewest points from Brazil to take the crown. If he can finish immediately behind Alonso - even if the Ferraris are ahead - he will be champion.

Pressure: in many ways he’s not really under any - if he wins he’s the first rookie champion; if he loses he’s still had the greatest rookie season in Formula One history - and, be it Alonso or Raikkonen, he will have lost to one of the most highly-rated drivers of the modern era.

Team spirit: while no one - even Alonso - doubts McLaren will continue to treat their drivers equally in terms of equipment and strategy, Hamilton knows that most in the organisation would almost certainly prefer to see him to win the title - a pretty substantial weapon to have in your armoury, especially when your main rival is also your team mate!

Why he won’t win…
Inexperience: Alonso has won two world championships, Raikkonen has come close to winning two. For Hamilton, it’s virgin territory. Yes, he’s taken titles before, but never under the intense pressure and media scrutiny that accompanies Formula One. Indeed, could his China gaffe be the first sign that he is starting to crack? On top of that he has never raced at Interlagos.

Pressure: in other ways, he is under intense pressure - pressure that has intensified immensely since his error in China. It is coming at him from all quarters, either directly or indirectly - from his rivals; his team; the media; himself; and, arguably most of all, from genuine Formula One fans around the world who, after a season seemingly dominated by off-track politicking, desperately want to see the Hamilton fairytale come true.

Fernando Alonso

Why he’ll win…
When the going gets tough:
the media may have over-egged the situation, but there is no denying that Alonso is a pretty isolated figure at McLaren, and few in the paddock expect him to continue with the team next season. You might think such a situation would de-motivate a driver, but in Alonso’s case he almost seems to thrive on it. This time last year he was complaining that Renault were not giving him adequate support in his championship battle with Michael Schumacher, claiming he often felt ‘alone’ within the team. It didn’t stop him putting in devastating drives when they were most needed - notably his victory in Japan, which all but secured his second drivers’ title.

Risky business: if Alonso really is convinced that McLaren are on Hamilton’s side he may decide he has nothing to lose in being ultra aggressive, both on the track in his driving, and off it with the mind games that inevitably accompany a title decider. If he can get under Hamilton’s skin and convince his team mate that he cannot afford to play things conservatively - which in reality he can to a degree - then he knows he is more likely to force him into another rookie error. In this respect, Alonso’s isolation within the team is almost an asset - it means he will remain an unknown quantity to Hamilton, who can never be sure quite what the double champion has hidden up his sleeve.

Why he won’t win…
He’s not leading:
Alonso has never come from behind to win a championship. In 2005 he had a healthy margin over Raikkonen throughout the year and wrapped up the title with two rounds to spare. Things were closer last year - he was level with Michael Schumacher heading to the penultimate race - but he never actually dropped behind the German.

He’s already lost: as McLaren have discovered, Alonso is a hard man to read. If he genuinely believes that Hamilton is destined for the title, could it be that he has already given up hope? Numerous comments attributed to the Spaniard in the press suggest he believes the title has already been decided off the track. The sign of a beaten man? Or perhaps just one trying to out-psyche his team mate?

Kimi Raikkonen

Why he’ll win…
Third time lucky:
Raikkonen has been here before. He may not have won a title, but he’s been runner-up twice, in 2003 and 2005. In ‘03 he missed out by just two points, after pushing Michael Schumacher all the way to the wire. Such experience stands him in good stead - you can rely on Raikkonen to give it his all - and not to crack under pressure. On top of that he likes coming from behind - just look at his fearless fight through the field at Fuji recently.

His team mate: with Felipe Massa out of the championship running, past form suggests Ferrari will do everything in their power to make sure his main role is a supporting one to Raikkonen’s charge for victory in Brazil. Definitely a luxury Alonso and Hamilton won’t be enjoying!

Why he won’t win…
relative to McLaren, Ferrari’s has been pretty weak this season and just one more problem - in either qualifying or race - would put Raikkonen out of contention.

He’s too far behind: he trails Hamilton by seven points and Alonso by three, which means not only does Raikkonen almost certainly need to win in Brazil - ideally with Massa second - he also needs some serious misfortune to come his rivals’ way. Even if he leads home a Ferrari one-two, with Alonso finishing third, Raikkonen would need Hamilton to come home no higher than sixth to steal the title.