March 21st, 2013 (F1plus/B. Dixon).- With sixty eight consecutive races completed without a celebratory appearance on the podium to the tune of the Brazilian national anthem, Felipe Massa has now been festooned with the title of having completed most races without a victory for Ferrari. An unwanted record he may not be celebrating if events had unfolded differently at the opening race of the 2013 season in Australia.
Massa appeared to have arrived in Melbourne in high spirits, with an upbeat attitude that was reflected in his pace across the weekend. The initial practice session saw him record the second fastest time ahead of his team mate Fernando Alonso, followed by times that were less than a tenth off the pace set by the Spaniard in Practice 1 and 2.
Qualifying saw him deftly samba the Scarlet beast round the twists and turns of the circuit at Albert Park culminating in a final position, one grid place ahead of his teammate. Juiced up and ready, Massa made a jubilant start shooting him into second place leading the Ferrari procession with Alonso just behind. Conga style, he led his team mate until the second round of pit stops when Alonso benefited from the perfect strategy gifting him position over Felipe and Sebastian Vettel.
Of the Ferrari’s, Felipe was the driver in the lead, and therefore should have enjoyed the festivity that the strategy provided his teammate. Instead, any jubilance felt by the Brazilian seemed to disperse. After the race Massa was quoted by O Estado de S. Paulo as saying, “There is a degree of frustration, because I was not passed except in the pits.” He followed this by expressing his feelings to Spanish publication El Confidencial, “Yes I was upset when Fernando got ahead of me. That was the only problem of my race, where I lost two positions.”
Ferrari make little attempt to masquerade their team orders, however it seemed a little partisan to apply them so early in the season. Fernando Alonso is the third driver Felipe Massa has partnered at Ferrari, however the degree of subservience required by the Brazilian has varied with each. In 2006, when fulfilling his role as number two to Michael Schumacher, he took victories in Turkey and at the season finale in Brazil. Following that, in Kimi Raikkonen’s Championship winning year, he swung his way to consecutive victories in Bahrain and Spain, then added another Turkish win to his joyous tally.
These were two very high profile teammates against whom he took race victories during their fight for the title with rivals from other teams. 2008 was carnivalesque for Massa with the battle between the Brazilian and Lewis Hamilton creating the spectacle. He partied his way to six wins giving him his own opportunity to fight the Briton for the championship. Taking the chequered flag at the end of lap 71, and briefly celebrating victory, his revelry was halted when it emerged that Hamilton had usurped Timo Glock’s position on the track and with it, Massa’s title.
This sort of anguish can prove hard to overcome, and will undoubtedly have some reverence on future performance. Indeed, Felipe Massa has not won a race since. The form shown in 2008 remained latent until the 2012 season restarted following the summer break. From Spa onwards, we were treated to a Massa gala as his performances in qualifying and during races reminded Ferrari of the show they were missing. With his recaptured form continuing into the new season, we may be forgiven in thinking he may have earned the chance to perform, to shine.
Felipe was allowed to take wins from Kimi Raikkonen and Michael Schumacher, but he doesn’t seem to enjoy the same fortune while partnering Alonso. The request made to hand the victory to his team mate during the German Grand Prix in 2010, the spurious gearbox penalty in Austin and the pit stop strategy to favour Fernando pay testament to this. It leads us to wonder just how much of a stronghold Alonso has at Ferrari. Considered by many to be the most talented on the grid, he is a master who expects to be served and the Maranello team will bow to his wishes.
Felipe’s struggles with form have been no secret, but now his Latin passion has been ignited once more, it would be a shame if it was left to fizzle out. Let us hope he stays unaffected by the incident in Melbourne, and the unfavourable record he now holds, and continues to create Brazilian carnival in the car. Here’s to a Massa jamboree in Malaysia.