Is Felipe Massa the Man For Ferrari?

Andrew DaviesCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2008

Felipe Massa. Great guy, a gentlemen. Part of a legendary history of Brazilian drivers who have won Grand Prix, with the likes of Emerson Fittipaldi, Nelson Piquet, and of course the great one himself, Ayrton Senna.

He is without doubt a great F1 driver. He has great ability behind the wheel, and works well with his engineers. When he is out in front of a Grand Prix, he can waltz away without anyone having the pace to catch him.

He even reminds me of Schumacher when he used to get out in front, and just drive off into the distance.

I have been watching him since his first race, which was at Melbourne in 2002. He debuted for the then-Sauber F1 team, who were powered by Ferrari, of course, with the engines re-badged as Petronas. (The Sauber also looked a lot like the Ferrari!)

His first season was a little ragged, making a lot of errors and frequently being beaten by his teammate Nick Heidfeld. But apart from these errors, you still got the feeling he had the talent and the capability to drive an F1 car very fast.

Massa ended up with four points for that season, and his highest finish was fifth place at the Spanish Grand Prix.

After his first season in F1, he went to Ferrari for a year, testing their F1 car. This I’m sure gave him great knowledge, and it gave him time to work his skills in an F1 car without the pressure of racing against 20 other drivers.

After his year testing for Ferrari, he moved back to Sauber F1 and drove alongside Giancarlo Fisichella for the 2004 season. More of the same, I thought to myself, as I prepared to watch the season unfold.

Massa showed a more polished approach to his driving, but he still seemed to lack a consistency. With it, he would have been able to beat his teammate Fisichella, who beat him on many occasions and looked the better driver that year.

For that season, Massa managed a highest finish of fourth place, coming at the Belgian Grand Prix. His points tally at the end of the season was 12. In 2005, he would stay with Sauber, but this time partner with Jacques Villeneuve.

Throughout the 2005 season, I didn’t really think Massa was anything special, I knew he was fast and capable, yes, but I always felt he made too many errors.

Massa ended up beating Jacques that year, eleven points to nine. He also out qualified him 13 to 6. His average finishing position was also higher than Villeneuve for that season.

So you could say 2005 was a turnaround for Massa, and maybe that he had conquered his demons and finally achieved something he needed: consistency. He would need consistency to beat his next teammate, as Massa was to join Ferrari for 2006.

This would be the ultimate test of his ability, up against the legend himself, Michael Schumacher.

I didn’t think he had the slightest chance of beating Michael Schumacher, and he did not beat him. But he did learn from the great one, and he improved his pace and performance throughout the season.

Massa went on to secure podiums in 2006, at the European, American, French and German Grand Prix. Some were very impressive podiums, he then eventually took his maiden victory in Turkey.

He basically blew everyone away, showing everyone that he has the ability and the speed. He won another race that year, and with Michael Schumacher announcing his retirement at Monza that year, it seemed 2007 could Massa’s year to launch an assault on the championship.

He ended the season well, and took away another victory at his home race, Brazil. His total podiums for that season was seven, along with two race victories. His points tally was 80.

It was time for a new dawn at Ferrari then. Enter Kimi Raikkonen. I don’t think Massa really cared who his teammate was. He just loves driving for Ferrari, and that was all that mattered.

So 2007, the year in which Massa would stake his claim for the title?

It began well, season testing saw Massa and Ferrari on a good race pace, looking very quick. But when the F1 paddock arrived for the season opener at Melbourne, Ferrari hit reliability problems.

He had to take an engine change, which put him at the back of the field. He drove well during the race, showing maturity and good pace, he ended up finishing sixth.

With these well driven performances, he would surely challenge for the championship. All he needed was a little luck, and this came at Bahrain. Massa took Pole Position at the Bahrain Grand Prix and went on to win.

He also achieved the same feat in the following race in Spain. This was the performance level that would enable him to win the championship. All he had to do was remain consistent.

Unfortunately as the season progressed, some of the minor errors that have been associated with Massa crept in. At Canada, he drove through a red light in the pit lane and was black flagged from the race. Errors can be expected of course, but with Massa you seemed to be waiting for it to happen, and you thought it would happen.

Massa secured more podiums that year, and another victory came in Turkey. Quite a dominant victory too. Massa looked fast and at home in Turkey.

Still though, Massa did not have enough points to challenge for the championship in 2007. All he could do now was win his home Grand Prix and give something back to his home country.

Massa led the race, but Kimi Raikkonen overtook him during a pit stop phase during the race. This was obviously a bit of team play, as Kimi was on for the championship. Kimi eventually went on to win the championship for Ferrari.

In total, Massa scored 10 podiums that season, three of them standing on the top step, His points score was 94. I feel he could have won that year, but a few minor errors and bad reliability cost him dearly.

I still also believed Massa was still making errors that could and should have been ironed out a long time ago.

After watching Massa in the 2008 season, it looks like more of the same, Massa retired from the first two races of the season, not a great start at all.

Then a massive turnaround. He wins in Bahrain, comes in second in Spain and then wins in, yes you’ve guessed it, Turkey!

After that great run of form, Massa hit a real bad patch at Silverstone. He spun off the track many times, yes it was a wet race, but he spun too many times! He was unlucky in qualifying when he tripped on some oil that was spilt on track. So up and down are his performances, you're just not sure what he is going to do next.

I watched the German Grand Prix this year, and I believed Massa did not have what it takes to win. He was passed by Lewis Hamilton towards the end of that Grand Prix, literally muscled out of it.

I thought to myself, there is no way driving like that, he going to win this years championship. The Ferrari was so poor in Germany.

Is it a case of bad luck for Massa? Or is he just prone to making a few more errors than others? Maybe he hasn’t quite got the bravery to just stick his car where someone else would. But on his day, he can be unstoppable.

Rob Smedley, Massa’s race engineer, has helped cool the fast Brazilian down, and try to help him be more consistent with his driving, feeling confident and good within himself. But I still have the feeling that Massa is going to always be the nearly man, and never actually take the championship.

I would love to see him win it, he’s a great guy, and is fast and worthy enough. I just always wonder if he actually can. He needs to fight for the championship, without making any mistakes.

I saw evidence for the first time that Massa can pull this off, as I watched the Hungarian Grand Prix. Massa and Ferrari were not looking good for pace in practice or qualifying, and everyone thought McLaren would dominate the race. Massa had other ideas, he started third behind the two McLarens.

He made a great start, and was looking to pass the Pole sitter Lewis Hamilton at the first corner. He came steaming round the outside, gave a little room for Hamilton, and went through.

It was a fantastic overtaking move, and he went on to build a gap. He was looking good for victory until his car came to a halt on the pit straight. Smoke came out of his car three laps before the end of the race. Very unlucky.

He showed to me in that race that he can fight, and he has got the measure of the best drivers when it matters. I just wonder if he can remain consistent. We will see of course how it unfolds.

I make him my outsider for the championship. This is only because he has shown more errors than the other challengers in this year's quest to become champion and previous ones before it.

But is he really the man for Ferrari?

The successor to Michael Schumacher?


No one will achieve what Michael did, and Felipe does not have what Michael was so good at: relentless consistency.


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