Massa's Blog

Not long to wait to be on track again

May 24, 2011 · Posted by Felipe Massa
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I got back home to Monaco on Monday morning, after a very disappointing weekend at the Spanish Grand Prix. We had hoped to do much better than this in performance terms and also I suffered our first technical failure of the season. We had expected our main rivals to be strong in Barcelona, given the fact our car is not quite as efficient as theirs in terms of aerodynamic downforce. However, what we had not expected was to suffer so much on the new Hard compound tyre that Pirelli had introduced for this race. We had already found life difficult on the original version of the Hard and we had seen that we struggled a bit more than the others on these. Then with these new hards we discovered we were having an even tougher time to get them to work properly and I would say we lost two or two and a half seconds when compared to our lap times on the Soft. You could see the effect clearly in the race. Myself and Fernando were both able to fight at first with him doing better than me as he was actually at the front thanks to his start, while I was fighting with the Mercedes guys, passing them to move up to sixth. But after that, once I fitted the hard tyres, it was almost impossible to drive the car. I ended up losing all the places I had gained, then I had a spin and eventually with a few laps to go, I had to park the car at the side of the track as I could not select any gears. Meanwhile Fernando went from leading the race to being one lap down within the space of about 40 laps which is an unbelievable situation. I would say that in Spain, it looked as though Red Bull and McLaren were the only teams able to exploit the hard tyres properly.

Staying on the subject of tyres, starting with free practice this Thursday at Monaco, we begin a run of three Grands Prix using Pirelli’s Soft and Super Soft and that should work better for us. They will definitely suit the characteristics of our car which is a positive factor. We have seen this year that the biggest factor when it comes to passing another car is the tyres and we will have overtaking this year, even in Monaco,  because of that. When a car in front of you is struggling with worn tyres, it will have very poor traction and even in places such as the exit to the chicane after the tunnel, if you don’t have traction, you will lose position before Tabac. I believe degradation will play a significant role on this track.

I enjoy the whole Monaco weekend and it is an important event on the calendar, but when I’m there I don’t walk to the track in the morning thinking about it being the most famous motor race in the world. It’s another race to concentrate on and it has a unique challenge because of the track itself. Nothing compares because even if Singapore comes close, that track is much bigger. So Monaco is just another race where you have to work hard and try to do your best. It’s nice to be home and I’m very lucky as I think I’m one of the few drivers to have two real home races, not just races that take place in the country you come from. Both here and Sao Paolo I actually get to sleep in my own bed in my own home and then have a short trip to the track. It’s another very nice aspect of this weekend, during which I hope we can make up for the disappointment of Spain.

At least we don’t have long to wait to be on track again!

 

Yet another step forward in performance terms

May 18, 2011 · Posted by Felipe Massa
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I have had a busy few days since the Turkish Grand Prix, so time has gone by quickly and now I’m heading off to Barcelona for the fifth race of the season, which I hope will show more signs of the progress we had clearly made in Turkey. After a couple of days at home in Monaco, I headed for Rome where I attended a function for our partner Shell, after which I stayed in Italy spending three days at Maranello.

I had the usual race preparation meetings with the engineers, although much of the time was in the simulator, with it set up to replicate the Catalunya circuit where we will be racing this weekend. To be honest, from a driver’s point of view, the simulator is most valuable when you are using it to learn a new circuit, like we did last year for Korea and will do again for India, this year’s new venue. The work I was involved in this week was more for the benefit of the car, the 150° Italia, as I was testing the new updates we plan to use starting from Friday.

A session in the simulator is very much like a normal test at a race track: we start running at 9 in the morning until around 1, when we have a break for lunch, which we take in the simulator area itself and then we start again running from around 2.30 to 5 in the afternoon. After that, just like at the racetrack, I have a debrief with my engineers. Usually with the simulator, you start doing a run just to get acclimatised to it and then you start doing runs that last five or six timed laps. You can immediately see the results of what you are doing so, based on that, you decide what changes to make to the car and go out again. In one day in the simulator, you can try many more things than you could do at the track, because in the “virtual” environment, it is much quicker changing things on the car than at the track. Also, you don’t waste time in the simulator with “in” laps and “out” laps: for example at the Catalunya track on the simulator, you start the lap coming out of Turn 11 and then you can immediately begin your timed lap. When you press the button to finish, it’s like being back in the garage again. You talk to the engineers and anything you want changing on the car they can do almost immediately, or they can configure the car to test new updates or experiment with set-ups. The simulator is therefore much more time saving than testing for real.

Physically, a simulator session is much less tiring than driving the real car, because the G forces are less, but you are still driving, moving and working hard, but the physical effort required is far less. The best thing about the simulator? When you crash, nothing happens, absolutely nothing! Okay, you can feel something through the steering wheel but then the platform just stops and it’s over. When you first start using a simulator, you can find yourself going off line and even crashing but there is no harm done to you or the car.

Back in the real world, we have new parts we plan to use on the car in Spain and we are expecting to make yet another step forward in performance terms. We know how tough a time we had in the early part of the season, but hard work has seen us reduce the gap to the quickest cars and we plan to continue that way, especially in qualifying trim. If we make the car better for Saturday, we should also end up with an even more competitive car in the race on Sunday. I hope we are on the right road, because we now have Spain and Monaco just a few days apart and after that, we will have already completed six Grands Prix, or almost one third of the season. So it is a very important time for us and I have every confidence in the team that we can have a good Spanish weekend. The Spanish Grand Prix will be another interesting test of the effect of the new rules, with KERS and the DRS, although overtaking might not be quite as straightforward as in Turkey, as the main straight in Barcelona is not as long as the one at the Istanbul track. Of course, we have seen that tyre performance is possibly an even bigger feature than the KERS and DRS and from a driver’s point of view, it makes the racing quite interesting psychologically, as you have to deal with having a car that is really competitive for some laps and then finding your lap times dropping off and you are struggling to fight off the cars behind you. Then you fit new tyres and the whole situation changes again. It’s interesting for us and more importantly, very exciting for the race fans. Obviously, my team-mate will be the focus of most of the attention for his home race in Spain and Fernando’s arrival at Ferrari has made the Scuderia very popular with the Spanish race fans, so I hope we can both deliver a good result for them on Sunday.

 

For the fans, it’s the race that counts

May 11, 2011 · Posted by Felipe Massa
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I’m back home in Monaco after the first race of the season where I failed to score any points and it’s fair to say, that given my previous track record in Istanbul, this was obviously a very disappointing result. I ended up eleventh, when I could have been challenging for fourth place and that was mainly down to poor pit stops. However, looking on the positive side, the aero updates we ran for the first time at this race definitely increased our performance level as can be seen from the fact that Fernando secured Ferrari’s first podium finish of the year.

Once again, qualifying was not that easy and then, as we have seen at every race this year, the car was much better in the race itself. I had an incident packed Sunday afternoon, but the first stint went very well for me and I was able to pass several cars, up to the point that I overtook Hamilton just before we pitted. This was where my race got complicated as my pit stop was not that great and we ended up side by side leaving pit lane, with him just having the edge in the end. After that, only the second of my total of four pit stops went well and Lewis went on to finish the race in fourth place, which shows what I could have been challenging for.

Even if we had a difficult qualifying and I did not even bother making a second attempt in Q3 to save tyres, the gap in terms of our qualifying to race performance did come down in Turkey, because we struggled less in qualifying and then made an even bigger step forward on Sunday, which is more proof that the car is improving. Why do we have that gap? It’s hard to pinpoint the exact reason, but let’s say it just seems to be a characteristic of the car, because even last year, we had a similar situation. I think qualifying is still important, but much less than before, like in the days when it was almost the most crucial part of the weekend, when overtaking another car during the race was so difficult. Even if qualifying is less important, there is nothing disappointing about that, because for the fans, it’s the race that counts as the most important part of the weekend, so the current situation is, in my opinion, good for the sport.

As for the pit stop difficulties, I would say I had a few too many, because without them I was definitely heading for a top five finish. This was frustrating for me and for the team. We do a lot of pit stop practice, but that Sunday it just did not work properly. We will have to study the problem and try and be more consistent, because in a single stop, just a small delay in changing wheels and you can lose position, as happened to me in Istanbul. The pressure on the pit crew is now very great, because not only are they having to be perfect several times during a race, but also since the banning of refuelling, they no longer have that time cushion changing wheels, while waiting for all the fuel to go in. We all have to improve ourselves, drivers included, because our role in the pit-stop operations is very important as well.

Today I am in Rome for a convention run by our technical partner Shell and then for the last two days of the week, I will be in Maranello, in meetings with the engineers and of course, spending time in the simulator; all part of our efforts to keep on pushing to improve our car, because with two more races coming up in the space of two weekends, we have to react as soon as possible to turn our season around. I mentioned the simulator just now and so I would like to wish a speedy recovery to Davide Rigon, a young driver who does a lot of work for us in the simulator and who unfortunately broke his leg in an accident in Sunday’s GP2 race in Istanbul.

 

As a racing driver, you always want more

May 4, 2011 · Posted by Felipe Massa
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The biggest event in my life since the Chinese Grand Prix is that I turned 30 around a week ago! I celebrated with my family here in Monaco and I have to admit, it did feel significant hitting thirty. Although, on the other hand, I don’t feel any different, I don’t feel older but it’s strange not be twenty something anymore. When I first appeared in Formula 1, I was twenty: it was ten years ago and I cannot complain about my career and my life since then, which has always delivered more than I expected. But as a racing driver, as a competitor, you can never be happy and you always want more and that is what motivates me. Looking at the current driver line-up in F1, I can take encouragement from the fact that, even if there are plenty of very young drivers in the sport, there are also guys like Michael (Schumacher) who show that it is possible to have a very long career and seeing him still competing makes me feel even younger!

After a long break from racing, I will be heading for Turkey very early on Thursday morning and I have to say that Istanbul is a very special place for me, as it was here in 2006 that I took my first ever F1 victory, which is something no driver can ever forget. I remember it as an incredible win from pole position and also I recall the fact I finished ahead of Michael and Fernando who were fighting for the championship that year, which all added to making it a great achievement. And after that, I made it a hat-trick, winning for the next two years, when I was definitely the fastest man on track. In fact, apart from the three wins from three poles, since I am in Ferrari I have always finished in the points at Istanbul Park, but I hope the Turkish wins won’t stop at three! It sounds strange, but looking back at my results in Istanbul and combining it with my recent significant birthday, it might even be a further motivation to get a good result this weekend. However, we must be realistic and I know we need a good improvement on the car, as we were not as strong as we expected in the first three races. But everyone in Maranello has been working very hard to produce some aero updates for this race, so hopefully we can be a bit stronger, even though these new elements cannot be considered to be a major upgrade. That is the story for this weekend, but we can expect more improvements to follow at the races immediately after this one.

If you look at our positions in qualifying at the last race, we did not have the performance to deliver a podium result, but during the race itself our pace was such that we were actually fighting for a top three finish. We cannot say now what the situation will be in Turkey, because if we have been working hard, then so have the other teams, but it is not impossible that we will find ourselves with a car capable of fighting for a podium. It is true that the tyre situation is the same for everyone, but it is equally true that this could again be the key factor in deciding what happens in the race. The famous Turn 8 will be very important, because you really put a very heavy load on the tyres at this corner so we need to think carefully about the car set-up to deal with it and control the degradation. One element that could make this a completely different situation is that, currently, the weather forecast predicts some rain on nearly every day of the race weekend, which means we and especially our strategists, have to be very concentrated and ready for anything. I can’t remember rain in Istanbul, so it could make life interesting.

Since China, I’ve kept in touch with my engineers to know what they are working on and I also spent two days at the factory and in the simulator last week, which was important for our development work. I enjoyed having a break from this with the unique opportunity of driving three Ferraris on the same day around Fiorano for a filming event: I had a Formula 1 car, the 458 road car and the 458 in its Challenge version. It was good fun, but the problem was that when you step out of the F1 car and into the road car – even a Ferrari – you have to be very careful about your braking points for the corners, because they are very different. But it all ended safely!

 

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