Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Felipe Massa: How can he improve?

Felipe Massa just missed out on the title in 2008, but from there has done nothing. In the sixth of my nine part series on the grid's best drivers, I ask how can he improve?

There are two things which in my opinion have affected Felipe Massa's career more than any other. The first is the 2nd November 2008. Felipe Massa was seven points behind Lewis Hamilton in the race for the championship, with just one race left, at Brazil. Massa took pole and drove a storming race, possibly his best ever, to win in the wet, and on the last lap, he was in a position to win the title: as he crossed the line for victory, Hamilton was in sixth. In the dying corners, on the last lap, Lewis Hamilton passed a struggling Timo Glock for fifth place, and with that, took the World Championship from Massa on the last lap. Jubilation in the Ferrari garage turned to despair as they realised Hamilton had beaten Massa by just one point. Massa's behaviour after this was impeccable. He praised Hamilton, and celebrated his stunning race victory in a professional and mature style. I was so impressed with him, and tipped him for the championship in 2009.

Massa came so close in 2008
However, in 2009, Ferrari's car, the F60, was awful. Brawn GP and Red Bull had taken over, while McLaren, Ferrari and BMW Sauber, the three contenders in 2008, were left in the midfield. Still Massa drove excellently and never once let his frustration at the poor car get on top of him, and got on with the job. He got next to no recognition for his driving in 2009, but BBC Commentator described him as “like a good wine – he just keeps getting better and better.” Massa took points finishes in Spain, Monaco, Turkey and Britain, before a brilliant podium in Germany. Then however, came the second event which changed his career, and probably his life as well. This event was on the 25th July 2009, where Massa was in sixth place in Q2 at Hungary, and on a lap, when cameras showed him crashing heavily into the wall at Turn Four. A spring from the car of Rubens Barrichello, which was ahead of him at the time, came out of Barrichello's Brawn and struck Massa in the head, smashing through his helmet and knocking him unconscious. After this horrendous injury, Massa didn't race in the rest of the 2009 season, and when he was seen waving the chequered flag at the Brazilian Grand Prix, a scar above his eye was clearly visible. When Massa returned in 2010 with Ferrari, he would be partnered by Fernando Alonso. At this point, an argument could've been made for Ferrari having the sports two best drivers, and certainly two of the best out there.

Massa's 2011 was a disaster
Massa's return started perfectly: Out qualifying Alonso at Bahrain and starting 2nd on the grid. However, when Alonso easily passed Massa on the inside of Turn One for 2nd place, the next two years at Ferrari were set. Alonso won that race by 16 seconds from his team mate. Massa's start to the 2010 season was very good, and after the third race at Malaysia he led the World Champiknship. This didn't last long though, and Alonso soon began to get ahead of him. After the British Grand Prix, Massa was in eighth place in the championship. Then at the German Grand Prix, Ferrari found some pace, and Alonso qualified 2nd, with Massa 3rd. But Massa got the best start, and took advantage of Vettel and Alonso's brawl to lead into Turn One. Very controversially, on Lap 49, Massa let Alonso through for the lead, as a reaction to the radio message "Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?" Massa knew what it meant and let Alonso through. Some people say that this was the moment which really hurt him the most, but his performances improved from Germany, with 4th places in Hungary and Belgium, followed with a 3rd in Italy. Massa was on the podium again in Korea, meaning he finished the championship in sixth place. In 2011, Massa needed to improve and get closer to Alonso, after a disappointing 2010, finishing sixth while Alonso was the runner-up. However, 2011 was even worse, and a disaster season saw him take no podiums, while Alonso got 10, and finishing a massive 139 points behind Alonso. He had a very poor season indeed, and it was marred with his many collisions with Lewis Hamilton. In Monaco, Britain, Singapore, Japan and India the two came together, with a reaction in Singapore to the collision which, in my opinion, was very immature and unnecessary.

So, is Massa really that bad? No. Like with Hamilton's 2011 season, you don't just lose talent, and Massa is still talented. He was excellent in 2008 and 2009, and clearly the injury had a bad effect on him. Whether he will win another race or not is a tough one, but he has the ability to. I don't think he's in the same league as Alonso, Vettel or Hamilton, but with a bit more pace and just getting closer to Alonso, he could be a winner again. Massa is still a strong defender, as he proved by keeping Jenson Button behind him in Australia, and Fernando Alonso in Korea for a long time. The main things he needs to improve on are qualifying and overtaking. Having said that, he did seem to have a lot of bad luck in 2011. His 2011 season was all over the place, but he knows that, and he knows he is now fighting hard for his seat at Ferrari. He is still a talented driver, and I hope he can re-find his 2008 form, because it would be very sad to think that the injury caused his downturn.

Over the next few weeks I will be looking at the six world champions on the grid, as well as three other drivers in top teams, in articles like this, as we prepare for the start of the season.

1 comment:

  1. Sorry for me being blunt but Massa is for sure nowhere near Alonso, Button, Hamilton or Vettel or even Webber in my opinion and also I think he'll never win a world championship simply because he's getting old and at Ferrari he's never gonna be the centre of attention with Fernando Alonso beside him let alone Massa's dismal pace compared to Alonso at times.

    He should have moved on from 2008 by now but it seemed to me in 2011 with Hamilton and himself crashing he and Lewis hadn't really.

    But the crash in 09 really did affect him in my opinion, it was unfortunate and really did cost him a great deal of respect, preparation and confidence.

    Good article once again mate but Massa can only improve if he forgets those two things and probably moves to a wildcard team like Lotus or Mercedes.