The weekend kicked off with the press conference in a small room – unfortunate as this was the best attended of all 18 Thursday press conferences. The seats were quickly filled with journalists, leaving standing room only, much to the annoyance of photographers herded in at the back.
The snappers’ main aim was to have a picture of the championship contenders shaking hands. Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa duly obliged before sitting down in the front row with, ranged along the back, David Coulthard (to mark his final Grand Prix) and local boys Rubens Barrichello and Nelson Piquet.
It was apparent straight away that there was a more relaxed atmosphere among the contenders than last year when Hamilton and Fernando Alonso could hardly bear to be in the same room as each other and Kimi Raikkonen sat in the middle giving the appearance of not being able to care less.
There is a genuine – I’m not sure if warmth is the right word – camaraderie between Lewis and Felipe. They get on well and passed the odd remark and exchanged grins from time to time when one of the other three were speaking.
Massa and Hamilton were all ears when Coulthard was asked what he thought of the pair sitting in front of the Scot. Diplomatic as ever, DC said:
‘Both of them are truly worthy of being world champion. I’ve said this in previous interviews and I’ll repeat it now. Lewis is obviously the favourite because he has more points and the easier job. But I have to say that Felipe is the most improved driver of the season. He’s become an attacking driver and I thought his start in Hungary and move to take the lead was a world class pass.’
Massa will need to do the same on Sunday if Hamilton takes pole. ‘In some ways, I have an easier job than Lewis,’ said Massa. ‘I’ve got to win. That’s it. I can go for it.’
‘I know I don’t need to win,’ said Hamilton, ‘but I’m just going to do the best job I can, and try and get pole and take it from there. Just like in China. We hit the ground running and never looked back.’
There’s no doubt that win in China has given Hamilton a boost, unlike last year when he arrived in Brazil, his confidence shaken by the error which put him into the gravel in Shanghai. ‘I’m feeling much more relaxed this time,’ said Hamilton. ‘I didn’t enjoy this race last year. But I’m really enjoying this one – so far.’
Is that going to continue? Not if Massa and Ferrari have any say. ‘I really love this place,’ said Massa of his home track. ‘To be here, trying to win the championship at home, is a fantastic feeling.’
Let battle commence.