Massa's Blog

I hope I continue to fight at a higher level

April 19, 2011 · Posted by Felipe Massa
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A couple of days have passed since the Chinese Grand Prix and I am still in Shanghai attending various events in a city which I find I enjoy more every time I come here. I had a very good race on Sunday, running strongly and getting involved in a lot of fights. The result should have been a bit better than my eventual sixth place, but I was very happy with how it went and I hope I can continue to fight at a higher level for the coming races.

For sure, we need to qualify better so we can start further forward on the grid which helps in the race, even with the talk of grid position being less important this year. In China actually my grid position, sixth, was not too bad and then I gained one place immediately after the start which moved me up to fifth. Most importantly though, if you look at the pace of the car, it was good enough to allow us to fight with the leaders. That meant I had a very interesting race, being able to make up several places because effectively, the car we had in the race was completely different to the one we had the day before in qualifying. It definitely worked well, because I even led the race for a short while at one point and I held a genuine second place for quite some time. Unfortunately, those who were three stopping for tyre changes caught us up much faster than we had expected in the closing stages and, on tyres that were in much better shape than mine, they were able to get past.

It’s easy to say, having seen how the race evolved, that I should have been on a three stop rather than a two stop strategy, but in fact, I am not completely sure this would have been correct, because the main problem I had was much poorer performance than the other cars experienced on the hard Pirellis, which meant that, when these tyres were fitted, the car had a pace more similar to what we had seen in qualifying and we definitely had more problems than the others. Up until then, the car was quite competitive. People have pointed out that Webber drove a fantastic race, which involved three pit stops, but you have to accept that, because he failed to get further than Q1 on Saturday, he had plenty of new tyres: everyone would want to be in that position, but you must remember he has a very good car, the quickest of the year so far. Nevertheless, we are always learning at this stage of the season and we should analyse everything very carefully to see if we should adopt a different approach, maybe modify our qualifying strategy to have some fresher tyres for the race. But after three Grands Prix it is still too early to say what is the best way to work with all these new rules, because in China at the weekend, you saw many different combinations of strategies and tyre useage and many of them seemed to work well. Nothing is one hundred percent clear yet and at Ferrari, we have to work out what is best for our car. It is possible that we could see very different strategies in the next few races, depending on the characteristics of the circuits.

In Shanghai, it was good for the sport of Formula 1 that Lewis won the race, so we don’t have the same car winning every time. However, we must not forget that Sebastian still finished second which is a very good result, which still keeps him in a good position for the championship. We have three weeks now during which everyone at Ferrari has to push hard to try and arrive at the next race, or more specifically the next qualifying, in a stronger position, so we can continue to take the fight to these guys. After Shanghai, we must also consider Mercedes as being part of the fight for the top places. They definitely have a quicker car than us for qualifying, but it’s not yet a match for Red Bull. But it is also true that the Red Bulls suffer more than most in a performance drop off from qualifying to the race, so this could see Mercedes continuing to be very competitive now in the races.

I am now preparing to leave Shanghai for home in Monaco. On Monday, I attended an event for a personal sponsor, Richard Mille who manufacture watches and in the evening I was at a dinner for Ferrari owners. Then before flying home, on Tuesday morning I was at the Shanghai Motor Show, making an appearance on the Ferrari stand, doing some press interviews and unveiling the Ferrari FF, the recently launched four wheel drive car, seen for the first time now in China. I am looking forward to this slightly longer than usual break at home before heading for Istanbul and I will be following very carefully the work going on at Maranello during this period.

 

Everyone is pushing hard to improve the car

April 13, 2011 · Posted by Felipe Massa
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So far we have had two Grands Prix this season, producing the same winner and the same three teams on the podium, while Ferrari has not been part of that. If you are not winning, then of course you are not happy and you try and change the situation but the facts show that our situation is not as bad as some might say.

It’s true that in qualifying in both races so far, we were not quick enough and in Melbourne, even our race pace was not that impressive. However, in Malaysia our car had the performance on Sunday in the race. That is something we must keep up but in addition, even if this sounds like what we said last year, we need to push hard to improve our car’s performance over a single lap in qualifying. Over the winter, there was speculation that qualifying would be less important this year because of an expected increase in overtaking, but so far, we have seen that if you do not start at the front, life is more difficult for you, even if you have good pace.

Everyone in the team, back in the factory is pushing particularly hard to improve the car as soon as possible. But it’s hard to say how long a job that will be and of course I hope it will happen very quickly. In China we will have some updates and something new to be tested on Friday, whereas Turkey in a month’s time is when we can realistically expect to bring some significant updates for the car.

My race was spoilt by a problem at the first pit stop. The fact that we are definitely going to see more pit stops per race throughout the season means this is an area of teamwork, driver’s role included, that we have to be sure functions perfectly. Also, in Sepang, my problem occurred the first time I came in to change tyres which is the worst possible situation as it is in the early stages of a race that a delay can cost you the most track position and places, because all the cars are much closer to each other. If it happens late on in the race when positions have stabilised and maybe you have five seconds over the car behind, then you can get away with this sort of problem at a stop. It highlights the fact that this is a team sport and while the driver is a very important part of that, so too are the engineers and also the mechanics, this year even more so than before.

Another trend we are seeing is that there can be many changes of position in the closing stages of the race, as drivers perhaps try to get to the race finish without making a further stop for new tyres, despite suffering high degradation. That was clearly the case in Malaysia with a lot of overtaking in the final laps. That is why the strategy is even more important now, in order to get the tyre change sequence just right, so that you can avoid finding yourself fighting for position in the last few laps, while dealing with tyres that are no longer at their best. This is not just down to the engineers to chose the best moment, because now the driver really has to think about managing the tyre situation himself, to avoid destroying them too soon.

I arrive in Shanghai on Wednesday, having stayed on in Malaysia for a couple of days. I have finished twice on the podium in China, with a second and third place, but last year I was only ninth in that wet race. It’s a nice circuit to drive even if the weather can be unpredictable. In the past, even with the long straight, overtaking was quite difficult but the combination of the long straight and the moveable rear wing should make passing easier.

There is no panic at Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro, because we know panic does not achieve anything. Everyone has to work together and push hard to solve these problems we currently have and move in the direction that will see us secure better results as soon as possible.

 

All my thoughts are with Gustavo

April 5, 2011 · Posted by Felipe Massa
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Before getting on to what I’ve been doing in the lead up to the Malaysian Grand Prix, I wish to express my great sadness at the death of Gustavo Sondermann, killed as a result of a terrible accident which happened last Sunday at Interlagos, during a pick-up race, run as part of the Brazilian Stock Car championship. I knew him well and our fathers are friends: I feel great pain at his loss and definitely, all my thoughts are with him and his family at this difficult time. It would be nice if I could get a good result next Sunday in Malaysia which I could dedicate to him.

I have just arrived in Kuala Lumpur, having spent the days since the first Grand Prix, back home in Sao Paolo. I made the most of my time there, with family and friends, because after the Chinese Grand Prix, I will be based in Europe until the later stages of the championship. I have kept in touch on a regular basis with the engineers in Maranello, so I know I can expect some changes on the car when I get inside the cockpit again on Friday. No one at Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro was satisfied with our overall performance, nor the final result of the Australian Grand Prix and much work has gone into understanding why that race did not live up to our expectations and then to plan how to move forward this weekend.

Here in Malaysia for the second race, there will still be a lot of unanswered questions as we start practice, because if you compare Melbourne with Sepang, the difference is as clear as black and white. The Melbourne asphalt is not very abrasive, the temperature is cool, the track is more of a city track, even if it is a real race circuit and the corner types are very different. Sepang is very hot, it’s a proper race track, with a lot of high speed sections, fast corners and many changes of direction. Then from a physical point of view the difference is also obvious: driving Albert Park is very easy and you get out of the car at the end of the race feeling completely fresh, whereas in Malaysia you lose a lot of fluid and lose weight and generally it is much more demanding. For all these reasons, I expect to see a completely different performance from our team and from our car.

With the moveable rear wing, the situation will be interesting here, because for the moment, the plan is to be allowed to use DRS during the race on the straight in front of the pits, but at Sepang, the straight that runs back the other way is actually longer. It is also true that it would offer a higher chance of overtaking. So, we are waiting for the final decision from the FIA to see if we use DRS on the front straight, the back one or both. The right decision could make the race more interesting for drivers and the spectators too. Personally, I am not sure that allowing DRS on both straights is the best option, because I think it might actually make overtaking too easy. You have to get the right balance between helping the chances of overtaking and having almost too much passing. At Sepang, the two straights follow one another, so if you are quicker than the car ahead, you might not even try and pass on the first straight, preferring to get well prepared and as close as possible, before then having a simple overtaking move on the second straight.

Looking at the weather here, it seems inevitable that we will have the usual heavy showers at some point every afternoon, which will be interesting. So far, I have just had one day of testing on Pirelli rain tyres, at the Jerez test back in February, which is not enough to have a good understanding. We will have to be well prepared for any eventuality and it will be an interesting experiment seeing how the tyres work in both very hot and very wet conditions. This will therefore be a very important weekend for Pirelli after what was a relatively easy debut for them in Melbourne.

As a driver, there is not much you can do to deal with the hot conditions, but honestly, if you are fit enough there is not much else you need to do. I have tried various methods, such as soaking my overalls in cold water before the start. Whatever you do, this is going to be a tough race: it’s not just the hot conditions, because it is the humidity that makes it unpleasant. For example, we have raced in Bahrain in an ambient temperature of 40 degrees, but I did not even sweat in the car because there in the desert it is a very dry heat. In Malaysia the problem is the humidity which makes you suffer more, losing body fluids, which then affects your strength and your concentration. No matter how fit you are, you suffer more at this circuit than at others. At least the time I spent in Brazil was useful as it was very hot there too. Last year, we made a strategic mistake in the wet qualifying at Sepang and I started twenty first on the grid, eventually making it up to seventh at the end of Sunday’s race and we will be working hard to avoid a similar error: like I said, the key in Sepang is to be ready for anything.

 

Hot days in Sao Paulo

April 1, 2011 · Posted by Felipe Massa
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I arrived home in Sao Paolo on Monday and looking back at the weekend, after what seemed like a long time of preparation and testing, it felt good to have finally gone racing again in Melbourne, because while developing the car in testing is enjoyable work, the thing we drivers like best is fighting against other drivers on track. The Australian Grand Prix did not go the way myself and the team had expected, as we were not as competitive as we had thought we would be, based on the winter performance. If there is one lesson we take away with us after the opening round is that we have a lot of work to do. We urgently need to find out exactly what happened in Australia, understanding what we did and what the other teams did. We did not come away with as many points as we thought we could score in the first race, so we have to get back to where we want to be by the next race.

I was asked many times over last weekend what surprised me most, the pace of the Red Bulls or of the McLarens. The answer is that I was more surprised by Red Bull, because what Vettel did in qualifying was very impressive. It’s true that McLaren seemed to have made a step forward, but Red Bull was really far ahead of everyone else. As for ourselves, our car is better than it looked in Melbourne and it is hard to explain exactly why we failed to deliver, which is why we have to arrive in Malaysia with the car we actually built, not the car we raced last weekend.

We did not have to wait long to see the effect of the adjustable rear wing and KERS on the racing, with my fight in the early part with Jenson. You could see he could get much closer to me on the straight: even if he did not manage to get very close on the previous corner, by the end of the straight he was alongside me. Clearly the rear wing helped him, although in the end, he only got past me by cutting the corner. During the battle, I feel I did a very good job of defending my position by using KERS, knowing how to save the power until it was time to use it at exactly the right moment so he could not get past. But it’s definitely easier to be the attacker than the defender in this situation. I’m sure it was exciting for the spectators and it was a shame that after the incident I did not have the pace to keep fighting him. I expected him to give back the position after he got by, because the rules are clear you must do this if you cut a chicane and Jenson is experienced enough to know that, without having to wait for the team to tell him what to do. After he got by, Alonso also got past me, as I ended up being quite slow because of the fight with Jenson. And given that Fernando pitted before me, that left Jenson with another chance to give me back position but he did not. Later in the race, I passed Buemi, because I had better tyres than him and I could use the wing as well. To be honest it was not that easy, because even if the wing helped me get close I could not pull alongside, as we did not have the best top speed last weekend, but in the end, I braked much later than him because of the better tyres and got by that way.

Now I am spending just a few days in Brazil, for what is my last visit here for a few months and it is also useful to help prepare for the next race in Malaysia, as it is very hot at the moment in Sao Paolo. Then on Sunday, I fly to Kuala Lumpur when I hope that we can begin to prepare for a more competitive race weekend.

 

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