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:
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.