Is Felipe Massa A Top Class Driver Or A Man In Good Machinery?

Billy SextonAnalyst IFebruary 28, 2009

Felipe Massa is the driver most say has improved the most over the past few seasons. As most of you are aware, the Brazilian was a championship contender in the 2008 Formula One season and was runner up by just a single point.

Finishing second has been his best championship finish to date and many are tipping Felipe to win at least one championship in the next few years, Bernie Ecclestone being one.

So is Massa a top class driver who has the ability to reign supreme on the Formula One grid? Or is he a driver who is lucky that his team can build a fast car?

To make this article as unbiased as possible I will sum up the arguments on either side and present my own opinion at the end of this piece.

Top Class Driver

Since joining Ferrari in 2006, Massa has steadily improved his driving. After a shaky start to his debut season with the Mugello based team, Massa started to score points and podiums consistently and secured his first win in Turkey after qualifying on pole position.

He finished the championship in a respectable 3rd place, behind team mate and seven time world champion, Michael Schumacher, and the greater experienced Fernando Alonso.

In 2007, Massa continued to shine, winning three races and only out of the points on three occasions. Dominant performances such as those in Bahrain, Spain and Turkey is clear evidence that Massa has got what it takes to win championships.

Despite all of this though, Massa finished 4th in the standings, with team mate Raikkonen taking the championship.

2008 was Massa's year to shine. He won six races throughout the course of the season, more wins than he had previously scored in his whole career. Dominant wins occurred again, and now, more often.

He took his third win in three years in Turkey as well as easing to victory at the European Grand Prix and in the final race of the season, he produced a professional and sophisticated performance in changing conditions to make the rest of the grid look like amateurs.

Also in 2008, Felipe was on pole position at all three street circuits, despite not being the favourite to do so as he himself had said he wasn't a big fan of these particular circuits.

By dominating his team mate, being victorious on six occasions and challenging for the championship are all reasons why Massa in considered a top class driver.

A Man with Good Machinery

On the other hand, Massa has performed poorly throughout races and entire seasons.

He only managed to score four points in his rookie season but this could be because of inexperience or the machinery provided as Nick Heidfeld only scored seven points in the Sauber. Nevertheless, Massa was dropped from the team for the 2003 season after a large number of mistakes.

Felipe was back at Sauber in 2004 after a season's testing with future employers Ferrari. He scored 12 points that season and missed out on a podium at Spa, but was still out paced by team mate Fisichella who was in the points much more consistently.

The fact that Massa was barely matching Heidfeld and Fisichella, both drivers who have never won a championship, suggests that if it wasn't for his little red car, he wouldn't be where he is today.

You could say that I am being unfair here and only mentioning mistakes from Massa's days at Sauber, but he has made a fair few at Ferrari as well.

All of you should be able to remember him driving off with the fuel hose at Singapore and he was also disqualified at the 2007 Canadian Grand Prix for failing to notice a red light at the entrance to the pit lane, yet less experienced Kubica stopped at the red light and was praised for doing so by the FIA.

Spinning at Malaysia and smashing into the wall on the first lap in Australia are other pieces of evidence that Massa is not that skilled a driver and his team is the reason he wins.


As you may have already guessed, I believe that Massa is just a man with good machinery. My opinion comes not from all his mistakes because all drivers make mistakes, but the fact that Heidfeld and Fisichella are fairly uncompetitive and were once his team mates tells me that Felipe would be in the same position had he not been signed by Ferrari.