Driver feud still brewing in Japan
A lingering feud between McLaren driver Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari's Felipe Massa is providing an interesting subplot to this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix, in which Sebastian Vettel should wrap up back-to-back Formula One titles.
The Red Bull driver needs just one point in Sunday's race - or McLaren's Jenson Button to fail to win - to become the sport's youngest two-title winner. Given that Vettel has not finished below fourth in any race this season, the odds of him clinching the crown at Suzuka are overwhelmingly in his favor.
The feud between Hamilton and Massa is a hangover from the previous race in Singapore, where Hamilton caused a collision between the pair, prompting the Ferrari driver to angrily confront his British rival during a postrace media session.
Hamilton was slapped with a drive-through penalty after colliding with Massa, the second time the pair have tangled this season - the other came in Monaco.
The Singapore collision brought to the surface some of the ill will that appears to have lingered since Hamilton beat Massa to the 2008 title by the slimmest of margins.
Since Singapore, Ferrari's in-race radio transmissions have come to light - in which Massa's race engineer Rob Smedley urged his driver to ''destroy'' Hamilton's race.
Even though the comment was likely figurative rather than instructional, and though there was no doubt the accident was Hamilton's fault, the news had added even more spice to the incident.
''Apart from the fact that I don't recall what Rob said, I don't think there's any value in stirring up trouble now and trying to link this with the subsequent contact with Hamilton: they are two separate moments and they have nothing to do with each other,'' Massa said on the Ferrari website.
Immediately after their post-race confrontation, Massa told media that Hamilton was a serial offender in causing accidents and someone who failed to listen or learn from experience. However he now says they can patch things up.
''I'm sure that Lewis and I will find a way to clear this up and put a lid on this story, as is only correct between two drivers," he said. "What happens on the track should remain on the track.''
Like Massa, Hamilton preferred to keep the focus on the upcoming race but said he has no plans to change his aggressive style.
''Suzuka will play to my strengths,'' Hamilton said. ''It's a track that really requires you to drive in an attacking way to be able to get a good lap time. It's an uncompromising place.''
It's been a tough season for both drivers.
In the race before Singapore, Massa had a collision with Red Bull's Mark Webber and finished a distant sixth in the Italian Grand Prix in front of the demanding Ferrari fans.
Hamilton has now gone 25 races since his most recent pole position and failed to make the top three in Singapore for the first time.
Vettel took his ninth win of the year at Singapore and has a chance to overtake Michael Schumacher for most wins in a single season. Only Schumacher has won more in a single season with 11 in 2002 and 13 in 2004.
The German is also chasing down the record for the most pole positions in a season. He has 11, while Nigel Mansell snared 14 in 1992.
Vettel won the Japanese Grand Prix last year and lists Suzuka as one of his favorite circuits.