Formula 1 Midseason Report: Felipe Massa
Before the start of the season, I highlighted six drivers who had a lot to prove going into 2012. The article can be found here.
The mid-season break is as good a time as any to revisit those men to see how they're progressing. First, let's take a look at Felipe Massa.
Massa entered 2012 on very thin ice. He could—and probably should—have been dropped at the end of last year following an extremely disappointing 2011.
The Ferrari was the third-best car, occasionally the second-best, but Felipe's best finishing position in any race was fifth.
The year before hadn't been much better. While teammate Fernando Alonso battled for (and probably should have won) the title, Massa was a distant sixth place overall.
Since returning from the injuries he sustained at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, Massa had started 38 races, won none (though he gifted the 2010 German Grand Prix to Alonso) and scored just five podiums.
His performances were far from good enough.
The Ferrari was a very poor car at the start of the season. While Alonso managed to drag it around the track at a reasonable speed, Massa simply couldn't handle it.
This was somewhat expected; only the very best drivers can take a bad car and make it respectable.
But in a field with mere tenths separating the front-runners and the midfield, the size of the gap was just too big. After just two races, the knives were out, and lists of potential replacements were already being compiled.
After five, it seemed almost certain that he'd lose the seat at the end of the year—and possibly sooner.
Then Massa enjoyed a mini-revival at the sixth race, Monaco. He pretty much matched Alonso lap-for-lap most of the weekend, and finished close behind his teammate. That's exactly where Ferrari want him.
His pace was decent in Canada too, but an error early in the race put him into a spin and he fell from fifth to 11th, losing any chance of a podium finish. He'd demonstrated good pace at two very different circuits.
He wasn't especially poor at Valencia, either. The results say he finished a lap down while Alonso won, but on this occasion, Felipe was blameless. It was a combination of track debris, Kamui Kobayashi and a badly-timed (for him) safety car which left Massa a distant 16th.
And in the British Grand Prix, Massa qualified well in the rain and came home in fourth place, his best result of the season. In fact, it was his best result since 2010.
But one decent finish didn't prove a great deal. Felipe needed two good races before the summer break (a point at which a team may, if they haven't already, make a decision about their driver lineup for the next year).
In Germany, a first-lap accident dropped Massa to the rear of the field and he could only fight back to finish 12th. And in Hungary, a poor start from seventh left the Brazilian ninth after the first lap.
A race distance later, that was where he finished.
Has he proved a point?
The improvements in pace Massa has shown as the season has progressed won't harm his cause. In terms of pure pace, he appears to be largely within the window Ferrari want him operating in—within a few tenths of Alonso, with occasional blips.
Trouble is, he just isn't getting it done in the races. The pace he has means nothing if he can't convert it to good finishes.
It's true that he's had some poor luck here and there—Valencia, for example—but in Formula 1, a driver makes a lot of his own luck. If someone runs into trouble, it's usually because he put himself in trouble's way.
It doesn't matter that Felipe can point to a timesheet and say he was only 0.143-seconds slower than his teammate over the course of a lap.
What matters is the fact that, since he became able to drive the car at a half-decent pace (Monaco onwards), Massa has scored 23 points.
Alonso has scored 103.
I don't think he's done enough—and if he's still in F1 next year, it'll be a huge surprise.
Follow me on Twitter if you wish, @JamesNeilsen
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