Don’t write Massa off so quickly

Before the season began, a lot of people — myself included — were shining the spotlight on Felipe Massa. “Without traction control, he will never survive,” we said.

The first two races certainly appear to have vindicated that view. Certainly Massa’s spin in Australia was unequivocally down to his inability to feather the throttle while exiting turn 1. This led to much pointing and laughing, as can be seen below:

I can haz traction control back please?

Noooo they be stealin’ my driver aids!

FAIL

So when Massa had an off in Malaysia, predictably enough many people — again, myself included — lay the blame on Massa’s inability to drive sans traction control. Massa’s excuse seemed weak: “It had a strange behaviour on the rear.” Then moments later Ferrari landed him in it when they said they could see nothing on the telemetry indicating that there was a problem. Keith at F1Fanatic asked: “Has Felipe Massa been found out?”

But. There is a difference between amateur onlookers like me and seasoned F1 analysts like Martin Brundle.

I have a huge amount of respect for Martin Brundle and I trust what he says. Like everyone else, when he saw Massa in the gravel he suspected driver error. But when he saw the replay his reaction was immediate and unequivocal: what a strange place to go off — that was probably a mechanical failure. (If you need a reminder of how surprised Brundle was, ITV have a video of it.)

After Ferrari said there was no problem on the telemetry, Martin Brundle changed his tack a bit, saying that it looked like “ambition got ahead of adhesion”. But after the race, Mark Blundell was more sceptical, saying he’d be surprised if that was purely a driver error. But he shrugged his shoulders and said, “But we just have to take Ferrari’s word for it if they say there’s no mechanical problem.”

The thing is, we don’t have to take Ferrari’s word for it. They have form in this area, as has been pointed out at the excellent F1 Insight blog. Clive is another person whose word I have to trust. He has obviously been watching motor racing for decades now and is very wise when it comes to these things.

I do not usually find myself defending Felipe but, on this occasion, I think he may be getting a raw deal. His Ferrari flicked so suddenly and inexplicably to the left that it made me think immediately that something had broken at the rear. It was well before the apex of the corner, too, and if Massa caused the rear end to lose grip by accelerating too soon (as most are saying), he must have completely altered his technique for some reason – he had made it through the corner plenty of times before without a hint of trouble, after all.

But why would Ferrari land Massa in the brown stuff like they did?

Ferrari are saying that they can find no mechanical reason for the accident; but then they would, wouldn’t they? Part of the fun of watching F1 is in seeing the lengths Ferrari will go to in denying that anything ever goes wrong with their cars. Remember Raikkonen’s terrifying accident in Monza practice last year? Not mechanical failure, oh no…

Makes sense to me.

18 comments

  1. here’s the thing that wrong with clive’s last statement:

    “Remember Raikkonen’s terrifying accident in Monza practice last year? Not mechanical failure, oh no…”

    in that instance i believe ferrari had something to hide. they were making fundamental changes to the rear of the car around that time, and something broke. if i recall a similar thing happened to massa in that race.

    with the malaysia incident i don’t think ferrari are hiding anything. in fact i think they’re quite happy (now that todt’s out of the way) to expose their driver for what he is.

    my guess is people inside want rid of massa, and it’ll happen asap.

  2. That is true. My brother had a theory that Jean Todt has actually been ousted out of Ferrari just so that they can get rid of Massa. Seems a bit extreme to do away with the boss just to undermine a driver.

    But it certainly clears the way for Massa to be kicked out. Makes you wonder about that contract until 2010 that was signed last year though.

  3. “Makes you wonder about that contract until 2010 that was signed last year though.”

    there were questions raised at the time i recall. i don’t think your brothers far off the mark with his theory actually.

    if massa stays in the team they can kiss goodbye to the constructors ’08 title. i can’t see luca m. being too happy about that.

    philip morris want an alonso / kimi lineup. it’s only a matter of time 🙂

  4. So, instead of looking at the evidence and making an educated guess from there, we have to examine all kinds of conspiracy theories to get to the truth of the matter. Oh yes, that would be the modern way. 😉

    The argument that Ferrari were trying to hide a tweak in the case of Raikkonen’s accident is true but proves nothing. It is just as possible that they have a new tweak on this year’s car that they don’t want the opposition to know about – back to square one, I’m afraid.

    Raikkonen was used as an example of standard Ferrari policy because it was recent and therefore bound to be remembered by most, but there are countless instances of Ferrari being very slow to admit any breakages on their cars. This was less so during the Schumacher years because his legend was big enough to defer to, but it is no surprise that Ferrari appear to be returning to their roots now that he has gone.

  5. I LOLed at the images ;-).
    Obviously, in Spain we favour your brother’s theory. Once we got rid of Todt, Massa is the last oposition to see Alonso in red.
    Alonso and Kimi as teamates could make history for Ferrari…

  6. F1Punter – Heh, nice. Hadn’t thought of that one. 😀

    Ponzonha – Is Massa the last opposition to Alonso moving to Ferrari? Those rumours surrounding Sebastian Vettel have been gaining traction for over a week now.

    Admittedly, I think a lot of that is wishful thinking. But I think a lot of the Alonso speculation is wishful thinking as well. Although I agree that he won’t be driving a Renault next season, I don’t think it is out of the question that Alonso would move to BMW for next season.

  7. “So, instead of looking at the evidence and making an educated guess from there, we have to examine all kinds of conspiracy theories to get to the truth of the matter.”

    as far as i can tell you don’t have a heck of a lot of evidence with which to make your educated guess?

    massa says one thing, ferrari say another. you have a video, but no ferrari technical data to back anything up, and it’s only the second race under the new regs, so against what are you drawing comparison?

    sounds like you’re making an uneducated guess, which is all i was doing.

  8. The evidence includes previous incidents in which Ferrari have been coy about breakages to the car. Where is your evidence that Ferrari want to be rid of Massa? It’s not as if they rubbished him – they merely said that the telemetry showed no problems. If they were trying to shove him out, wouldn’t they have been a bit more direct in blaming Massa?

  9. “The evidence includes previous incidents in which Ferrari have been coy about breakages to the car.”

    yup, in the past ferrari have been coy about flaws with their equipment. but equally massa has been visibly out of control most of his career. this is the guy who made himself dizzy on his f1 debut. why nicolas decided to manage him we may never know, but are you suggesting he wasn’t in red team because of the todt connection? because i think he was, and therefore seem reasonable to assume without todt at the helm, everyone else is keen to see him gone.

    “If they were trying to shove him out, wouldn’t they have been a bit more direct in blaming Massa?”

    given the reaction, i don’t think they need to. much better to give him enough rope and enough time, i say.

  10. I think this is going to be a tricky call and one that we will likely never know about. When Massa’s Ferrari jinked and went off in Malaysia, my immediate reaction was “idiot”. When I saw a replay, I took back my initial thought. The car didn’t display the usual signs of driver error. It’s hard to explain, but the incident just didn’t look entirely like it was Massa’s fault. The posture of the rear of the Ferrari suggested something went wrong aside from the drivers feet and hands.

    Generally speaking though, I feel Massa doesn’t deserve the Ferrari drive and I would much prefer to see Vettel get a chance in the Red Baron’s old motor. Massa’s driving style is not worthy of the team, and arguably Formula One.

    Regarding Ferrari’s ability to hide faults with the car and their relationship with Massa. Well, I have to put a businessman’s/manager’s hat on and suggest that the company is bigger than the boss, which puts Massa way down the pecking order. If Ferrari want to say there was nothing wrong with the car and let Massa take the blame, then it is their prerogative. At the end of the day, Ferrari know there are better drivers out there, even Todt must’ve known that. Massa served his purpose in 2006 when Barrichello left. Kimi has shown he cannot be relied upon 100% of the time, thus the team need a decent second driver. Massa won’t be in the car next year, and Ferrari will continue to treat their drivers the way they do. Unless they find another Schumacher, that is.

  11. Whether or not Massa’s spin was driver error or mechanical failure is, in a sense, academic. We will probably never know the right answer.

    But I think it is generally safe to assume that Massa won’t be staying with Ferrari for long. But it won’t be because of what happened in Sepang. It will be because of the incidents that have been piling up since 2002.

  12. Fiat (the owners of Ferrari) were the bestselling cars in Spain when I was a kid. Nowadays, you hardly see a Fiat here, altough they have great cars (Fiat Grande Punto is an everybody’s favourite). Maybe Alonso is what they need to regain that cuota.

  13. I wouldn’t set too much store by Massa’s contract extension last year. Contracts don’t mean much in F1.

    Although he’s not driven well so far this year he wasn’t exactly exceptional to begin with and that didn’t stop him getting the Ferrari drive in 2006. That was down to Nicolas Todt – and with Todt Snr out of the picture at Ferrari Massa has lost a vital ally.

  14. look at http://news.google.com/news?scoring=d&q=Massa+balance+aerodynamic

    ‘The problem, Ferrari later revealed, was the aerodynamic balance of the car went forwards after the incident and the Brazilian lost control of the car when he tried to brake.’

    The question is that is this issue a design problem in Ferrari or feature. It could be problem of Ferrari but a good driver should know where are the limits. Limits of how much to drive over the kerbs.

  15. Good point. A consensus seems to be emerging that something funny happened with Massa’s car after he clipped the kerb. It seems odd that an F1 car would behave strangely when clipping a kerb, but never mind. You are right to point out that Massa should really be aware of the limits of his car. Thanks for the post Sammy.

  16. Video should show if it looks like that Massa went over the kerb too much or not. It feels like Massa was overeager, consider the situation: He started on Pole with lighter fuel load, Kimi was easily following him, once Kimi got clean air he did a blistering lap and passed Massa during the pits and was making gap to him after the stops and Massa was desperaely trying to keep up with him… and cut the corner too much.