Felipe Massa's upturn in form is a major boost for Ferrari's Formula 1 world championship aspirations going into the Brazilian Grand Prix season finale, reckons team boss Stefano Domenicali.
Massa's disappointing performances led to the Brazilian nearly losing his seat during the summer, before Ferrari elected to keep the faith with him for an eighth year.
For much of their three seasons together, Massa has been some way from team-mate Fernando Alonso's pace. He currently trails the Spaniard by 153 points in the standings and has only taken one podium finish this year.
But at Austin last weekend, Massa was Ferrari's pacesetter for much of the event.
He accepted a deliberate gearbox-change penalty to benefit Alonso's grid position, before charging from 11th to fourth - close behind his team-mate - in the race.
With Alonso needing to get several cars between him and championship rival Sebastian Vettel at Interlagos this weekend in order to overturn the Red Bull driver's 13-point cushion, Domenicali says Massa could be vital.
"He drove extremely well during the whole weekend and this is something that is positive looking ahead for Brazil, because we need both our drivers doing a really great race if we want to challenge Vettel to win the drivers' title," he said.
"Everything is possible, anything can happen. It is for me vital that we stay cool and concentrated and work hard and do the maximum we can do and if Sebastian wins, then we will congratulate him."
Massa agreed that his improvement was well-timed, both for his chances of assisting Ferrari in the title hunt, and in the hope of a stronger 2013 campaign.
"Even before August, things were getting better and better all the time and getting to the best shape," he said.
"There's just one more race to finish the championship but I think it's good for next year.
"For sure I hope the car changes a lot for next year to be more competitive, but the rules are more or less the same so I don't think there will be a big change in how the car feels, so this is very important."
VETTEL WINS THE TITLE IF:
- He finishes in the top four
- He finishes fifth, sixth or seventh and Alonso doesn't win
- He finishes eighth or ninth and Alonso is third or lower
- He finishes 10th or worse and Alonso isn't on the podium
ALONSO WINS THE TITLE IF:
- He wins and Vettel is fifth or lower
- He is second and Vettel eighth or lower
- He is third and Vettel is 10th or lower