March 23rd, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Ferrari drivers Felipe Massa and Fernando Alonso will line up second and third for tomorrow's Malaysian Grand Prix, and are looking like they could make a strong challenge for victory.
Qualifying has not been Ferrari's strong suit in recent times. Fernando Alonso's third place grid slot is the highest the Spaniard has qualified since taking pole position for the 2012 German Grand Prix. For Felipe Massa, however, the achievement of today's qualifying session is much more significant - Massa will start from the front row of the grid for the first time since 2010. And crucially for Massa at this early stage of the season, he has outqualified Alonso for the second race in succession, which is a dramatic turnaround from Massa struggles at the start of 2012.
Mercedes Team Principal Ross Brawn was quoted as saying he thought the Ferrari was the quickest car in last week's Australian Grand Prix. Considering that Alonso finished second and made one more pitstop than winner Kimi Raikkonen, Brawn's assessment makes sense. Assuming that Ferrari's strong pace has carried through to the Malaysian Grand Prix weekend - and from the qualifying performance it looks to have done so - victory is a distinct possibility for the Scuderia in tomorrow's race.
But to win, Ferrari will have to beat World Champion Sebastian Vettel, who starts from pole position. Vettel struggled in Australia with high tyre degradation, but was otherwise quick during the race. If Red Bull have found a solution to their tyre wear problems, Massa and Alonso could have their work cut out to finish ahead of Vettel. If, however, it rains during the race, then the result could become something of a lottery. And rain is likely.
This is what the Ferrari team had to say after qualifying:
Fernando Alonso: “I am very happy with this position as it’s been too long since I qualified in the top three! Something I have usually managed to achieve in the race has been missing for quite a while: maybe the rain helped us a bit as we were not the quickest in the dry, but starting in the top three gives us a realistic chance of a podium finish and we can even dream about winning. In Q3, when we had seen the track was drying quickly, we had a moment’s hesitation, because in the dry, the intermediates only last one or two laps before beginning to degrade. But in the end, it seemed the most sensible choice and it worked out well. Of the past three years, this seems to be the moment when everything appears to be working for the best: performance, strategy, pit stops. Now we must see how tomorrow will turn out, because it’s always a lottery if it rains. Even if, in the current Formula 1, the start is not the most important thing, we will still try to make a good one in order to maintain position or even to try and get past Vettel at the first corner. Then we will see: our race pace in Australia and the long run here on Friday means we can be reasonably optimistic.”
Felipe Massa: “It was a great qualifying in which we managed to make the most of all the opportunities that came our way. In Q3, we decided to stop towards the end of the session to fit a new set of intermediates and this allowed me to do a lap good enough to take second place on the grid. I am very happy with this team result, which is down to the great job done over the winter months. The car has shown itself to be competitive in all conditions, both in the wet and dry, but we must continue to improve. Today, we were up against very strong opposition and maybe the rain helped us a bit, because in normal conditions it would have been harder to aim for this result. Now we can expect a long and difficult race in which anything can happen and in which strategy and tyre management will be the key, while the uncertainty over the weather won’t help anyone”.
Pat Fry, Technical Director: “Like all the other teams, we tackled today’s qualifying with the aim of using as few tyres as possible to save them for tomorrow’s race. It took just one run on the hard compound to get both drivers through to the second part, providing various options for the rest of the session. In Q2, we used just one set of Mediums and even without the rain, I think that we would have managed to get through to the final part without any trouble. From then on, as predicted, it started to rain, but not enough to complicate matters: even though the track was wet, it was clear that Intermediates were the right choice. Going for a pit stop change after the first few laps proved to be the right move: we had to evaluate a subtle balance between tyre temperature and the amount of water on track and while at the time that can seem stressful, given the conditions, thinking back, it was relatively straightforward. If the rain holds off tomorrow, it will be very interesting to see how everyone exploits the tyres. All the teams have a few more new sets, which will make for a fascinating race”.