Apparently we have seen a dramatic upturn in Massa’s form since the summer break, that is what Ferrari would like us to believe anyway as they announce their cowardly decision to retain the Brazilian for what will no doubt be another fruitless year shining Alonsos’ shoes in 2013. Sure he’s scored more points in those few races since the break than he did in the first 10 races of the season (not too hard to do since he barely scored any), but was it really on his own merit?
In Spa Massa came off what probably was a long summer break pondering what the hell it was he was doing wrong with the car, with his teammate proving week in week out that the car was capable of doing so much more than what Felipe got out of it. It got to the point that Felipe and his engineer judged qualifying three tenths behind Alonso was a good performance. That may be the case if Massa were a rookie, but a man having spent the last seven years driving for Ferrari? It all gets down to what you classify as a ‘good’ performance. If your standards are that low, it’s hard not to deliver good performances.
His average qualifying position for the season is 10.44, failing to make q3 on nine occasions where his teammate only dropped out twice and is averaging 6th on the grid. The average qualifying gap between Massa and Alonso is almost half a second at 4.306s. He has outqualified Alonso just once…when the latter had a failure during Monza qualifying.
But I hear you, apparently we should immediately discard all the suck dripping from those woeful statistics because he allegedly had a serious upturn in performance since the summer break. We all know a few good races should evidently erase two years of abject failure – at least that’s what it sounds like hearing some reactions on Massa’s contract extension.
I’ll readily admit I’m the first to call for some proper Felipe bashing, but to me his first truly good performance on merit came last weekend in Korea however the claims are that he’s been putting in strong weekends since Spa? Let’s debunk that foolish idea shall we?
Belgian Grand Prix
In Belgium Massa finished 5th, till then his highest position of the year 30 seconds behind a dominant Jenson Button and behind an impressive Hulkenberg in 4th. On the face of it, one may argue that indeed, there is an upturn in performance there as 5th place – while disappointing for the man driving the other Ferrari – seemed to be very satisfying for Felipe. But did he really get that place on merit? Did circumstances not massively help him obtain that mediocre result? It’s hard to argue against the idea that had Grosjean not been a first lap nutcase, Romain, Lewis, Kamui, Pastor and Alonso would have all been comfortable ahead of Massa come the end of the race? That would translate this ‘good’ fifth place into another 0 points haul for Felipe baby.
After all, he had only qualified in a measly 14th place, just edging out the Toro Rossos by two tenths in a 1.49.1 while Alonso’s q2 time was again over half a second faster at 1.48.5.
Spa a ‘good’ performance? I’d rather say another mediocre one at best, embellished by the stupidity of one and misfortune of others.
Italian Grand Prix
On to the next one, the Scuderia’s home turf in Monza, where Felipe almost made his return to the podium, scoring a season best 4th and had his best qualifying of the year to boot, beating Alonso for the first time. However as I said earlier, he only beat Alonso because of the failure that hit Nando’s car late in q2. After all, Alonso’s Q2 lap was faster than Felipe’s q3 lap. A dejected Alonso even claimed to have lost an easy pole to to the failure, suggesting he considered it easy to take at least 2.5 extra tenths out of Felipe’s time to beat pole man Hamilton. A good performance by Massa indeed, but smelling like it got a bit embellished again by having the fastest car on the day and an unlucky teammate. In the end, he qualified 4 tenths ahead of Alonso’s wounded Ferrari.
Granted he raced quite well in the first half of the race, but when Fernando came charging through the field – again demonstrating the great pace of the Ferrari at Monza, the team understandably ordered him to move over. While one cannot imagine what goes on in the mind of a racing driver when being told to let someone by for Felipe I imagine it to be a tad different, as he is so desperate to hang on to this seat there is not even a question about his role as number two in Ferrari. Fact remains, that while I’d have expected him to hang onto Alonso, to show he did have the pace, Felipe kept falling back to finish 9 seconds behind, unable to match Nando’s pace again. In the end he netted a fourth place (would have been 5th if not for Button’s retirement). While on the surface of it a good weekend indeed, having the fastest car and a teammate out of your way, arguably Felipe should have gotten more out of it.
Monza a ‘good’ weekend – Yes, but nothing exceptional.
Singapore Grand Prix
Moving on then to Singapore, where the articles of Massa’s upturn in performance started gaining traction despite having very little to show for it. The weekend started off like so many others have in Massa’s 2012 season: with a q 2 exit. He qualified 13th with a 1.48.3 some 8 tenths off Alonso’s 1.47.5 in another pitiful performance. This put him in the danger zone during the tricky turn 1 when he got a puncture after a collision with Petrov, dropping him all the way down the order. Somehow, his drive to 8th was hailed in some quarters as a great performance, conveniently forgetting that without the safety car working in his favor, Felipe would have made little progress. By the time Khartikeyan hit the wall and brought out the safety car on lap 38, he had not managed to get further than 16th place, and within the space of two laps jumped from 16th to 10th. Then he managed to overtake just two more cars to finish 8th.
How Singapore can be hailed as a somehow good performance is a bit beyond me, but then again, I’m a Felipe basher.
Japanese Grand Prix
On to the land of the rising sun, where Massa finally scored his podium after a 2 year draught (during which his teammate has scored a ridiculous string of podiums and wins) and came home 2nd in another race where Alonso was hit by misfortune, another Lotus sending him out on the first corner. Felipe’s qualifying was lackluster again, falling out in q2 again as he would line up 11th on the grid with a 1.31.8, his customary half a second behind Alonso’s Q2 time of 1.31.8.
His race pace was good, but he was again – much like in Spa – gifted race position rather than that he had to pull of some great driving to get where he ended up. The first lap shenanigans with Grosjean, Webber, Rosberg and Alonso playing into his hands beautifully as the dice fell his way and he emerged in fourth as they ran up to the esses. Button and Kobayashi then hit traffic after their first stops which allowed Massa to jump them in the pits, to cruise home fairly comfortably to 2nd place. The stats will show a great weekend, but looking at what actually happened, Massa’s performance was massively helped by circumstances, not his own merit.
Korean Grand Prix:
Finally we get to last weeks’ Grand Prix in Korea where even I have a hard time to find fault. His qualifying was decent compared to his other performances this year making it to q3 with a sixth place and a 1.37.8, ‘only’ three tenths behind Alonso’s 1.37.5. However, looking a bit deeper the gap to his teammate was still unacceptably large, and he was the slowest of the drivers in top cars (bar Button who dropped out of q1 due to the yellow flags). The Korean race is where to me, we saw a great drive from Felipe for the first time this year. He had great pace throughout, was smart and aggressive off the starty but was still stuck behind Hamilton until Lewis hit problems with his car. Near the end of the race it became clear that for the first time in living memory, Felipe actually had better pace than Alonso, and was told to hold off by the team, without which he may have been able to catch Webber. Korea: mediocre quail, good race.
Let’s add all that up shall we and then I’ll leave it to you to decide whether the claimed upturn in performance has really been enough to warrant a new contract.
– Massa 1 – Alonso 4
– Eliminated in q2 3/5
– Average gap to Alonso: 3.4s
– Average starting position: 9.4
– Massa 2 – Alonso 3
– Average finishing position: 4.6
His qualifying performance is barely improved compared to the season overall, and while he has seen an improvement in finishing positions, except for Korea and Monza he was helped a great deal by other drivers misfortune and the Singapore Safety car. If Massa were a rookie the statistics of this year would have led him to be butchered. The statistics of the past five races are not much to write home about either. Yet because Alonso does not tolerate a strong driver next to him, because Ferrari is comfortable squandering their chances in the WCC, beacuse Kubica damned near killed himself in a rally car and because frankly, Webber just did not want the job, Massa will still be in a Ferrari seat next year…but let’s not fool ourselves thinking it was because of his ‘good’ performances of late.