The Massa delusion

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Melbourne, 2007 | Ferrari S.p.A.First Kimi Raikkonen’s manager, now Felipe Massa is claiming unreliability has cost him a world championship:

I think my countrymen understand that I would have been the 2007 World Champion if my car had been more reliable.

Let’s get the calculators out and do some sums…

Did Felipe Massa lose the 2007 world championship because of unreliability?

Australian Grand Prix – qualifying

Massa’s 2007 campaign got off to a poor start when his gearbox failed in the second part of qualifying for the first round at Melbourne. Ferrari installed a fresh engine into the car and started him from the back of the grid and he worked his way up to sixth by the end of the race.

Kimi Raikkonen won the race with ease, and given that Massa generally outpaced him in the first half of the season it’s quite likely that, but for his car failure, he would have led home Raikkonen in a Ferrari one-two.

Massa plus seven points; Raikkonen minus two points

British Grand Prix – race

Felipe Massa’s Ferrari stalled at the start of the British Grand Prix, meaning he had to start from the back of the grid instead of the fourth place he qualified in. He rose from there to finish fifth on a day when Raikkonen won.

Raikkonen was by now fully on top of the 2007 Ferrari and its Bridgestone tyres, so it’s by no means a given that Massa would have beaten him. Raikkonen outfoxed Massa to take victory at Magny-Cours just seven days earlier.

For the purposes of this argument let’s give Massa the benefit of the doubt and imagine he would have won. But it’s by no means a given that this was a car failure in the first place. As Peter Windsor wrote in F1 Racing last August:

Felipe’s engine cut out on the grid. Don’t know why – and Ferrari weren’t saying. Definitely not an overheating thing – but if I had to guess, given the way the thing started perfectly in the pit lane, I’d say it was some sort of finger trouble in the cockpit.

Massa plus six points; Raikkonen minus two points

Italian Grand Prix – race

Nine laps into the 13th race of the year, Massa’s rear damper broke, playing havoc with the car’s handling. It ended his race and all-but killed his hopes of winning the championship.

McLaren scored a one-two at a track where the cars were visibly faster than the Ferraris, and it’s likely Massa would have been no higher than third.

Massa plus six points

Felipe Massa, Ferrari, Hungaroring, 2007 | Ferrari S.p.A.Hungarian Grand Prix – qualifying

Massa started 14th for the Hungarian Grand Prix after problems in the second part of qualifying. This compromised his race but I wouldn’t describe it as ‘unreliability’ and so I’ve discounted it from this analysis for the following reasons.

Massa set a lap at the beginning of Q2 but, unlike Raikkonen and the two McLarens, it wasn’t quick enough to get him into the top ten. This was highly unexpected, and in the rush to get him out for a second attempt, he didn’t receive enough fuel. He was eventually topped up with fuel and did get a second lap time in.

Yes, the team might have serviced him better, but that is not the same as mechanical unreliability. Besides which, Massa made two driving errors – not getting a quick enough lap done in the first place (his first time was 0.9s slower than Raikkonen’s), and failing to get his tyres up to temperature on his second attempt.

The verdict

If Massa had not lost these points to unreliability he would have ended the season on 113 points. Raikkonen, instead of scoring 110, would have had 106.

So there it is – Massa really would have been champion. But it’s a fallacy to look at the championship this way. After all, Raikkonen lost a likely third at Barcelona and another at the Nurburgring. Give him those points back and he’s won the title again, 118-116.

And what about the McLaren drivers? At a conservative estimate Hamilton lost five points to car trouble in Istanbul and Interlagos, and might have won at the Nurburgring but for the wheel gun failure in qualifying. Give him those 15 points and he’s potentially got 124.

(Alonso only had one significant failure, in qualifying at Magny-Cours. He started 10th and finished seventh, and probably would have been third or fourth. Funny that he should have had so few car problems given that the entire McLaren team was biased against him and it was all a big conspiracy to make Hamilton the champion.)

Playing the ‘what if’ game is a nice bit of fun for us fans, but I hope Massa isn’t taking this stuff too seriously. He should remember that Raikkonen had more car failures that put him out of a race than he did.

He should pay more attention to the deficiencies in his driving that caused him to throw points away. Like his woeful attempt to pass Hamilton at Sepang, and the utter lack of conviction with which he attacked the job of rising through the field from 14th at the Hungaroring – to finish a miserable 13th.

Photos copyright: Ferrari S.p.A.

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23 comments on The Massa delusion

  1. Architrion said on 28th January 2008, 8:04

    “Hamilton might have won at the Nurburgring”….. ja ja ja… of course… come on… without rain it would have been the easiest race of the season for both Ferraris… with luck he would have finished third with 120 points… And Interlagos is just an enigma. I don’t feel too confident with official explanations… it seems to me a clear driver failure… but who knows.

    On Alonso’s side, you have forgotten what happened at Bahrein, when garage’s roof falled down and damaged his car (and Hamilton’s too) and McLaren failed to explain what happened.

  2. at the end it the failures were pretty much even , none of the top 4 had trouble free season. the best guy won the title whether Felipe (or Lewis) like it or not :-)

  3. If you believe that you can go through F1 without any mechanical failures then you shouldn’t be in the sport. Massa should just accept it, stop badmouthing his team in the press for failing to give him a reliable car and get ready to challenge for the title in 2008.

  4. Mario Peeters said on 28th January 2008, 9:47

    Seems to me like the brazillians are crybabies. Rubens and Felipe just do not have that wining spirit. Hope Nelson will bring the fire back to the brazilian people. He seesm to have guts.

  5. Toncho said on 28th January 2008, 10:52

    Sure no major mechanical failure for Alonso this year, but what about the points he lost in Hungary by losing a well deserved pole?? There is not a single coma in FIA’s regulations that explains that ruling.

  6. In the end, you can say whatever you want, it just doesn’t change anything.

    I would love for Felipe to win the championship in a Ferrari, but as mentioned, the Sepang incident was cringeworthy – I don’t really believe it was Lewis’s self-acclaimed ‘trick’ that caught out Felipe, Felipe caught himself out there – but I believe he is still learning, and I think such drivers make good champions in the end.

    I think if anyone has the right to moan due to reliability, it’s Mark Webber – but even he gets on with it…OK, you could argue that’s because he’s never been in contention for the title, but his career tallies would fair a lot better than they are had they not been for the cars he’s driven.

  7. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th January 2008, 11:29

    Toncho, the stewards’ ruling said Alonso, “unnecessarily impeded another driver”.

    Article 3.17 of the 2007 Sporting Regulations states: “Any driver taking part in any practice session who, in the opinion of the stewards, stops unnecessarily on the circuit or unnecessarily impedes another driver shall be subject to the penalties referred to in Article 31.6.” (emphasis added).

    Loki, I think ‘cringeworthy’ is exactly the right word. You could hear it in Martin Brundle’s voice during the commentary.

    One thing I meant to add to the above article was that, had Massa not had his various failures and been in the fight for the title at the last round, he surely wouldn’t have had to let Raikkonen win in Brazil.

  8. Daniel said on 28th January 2008, 12:28

    Well, I hope at least you’ll start to admit that Massa and Raikkonen are very much on the same level… I agree with you that he shouldn’t blame the car, as luck moves from side to side (Kimi knows that), and misfortune is often out of control.

    Still, I think Felipe is not a Rubens, he has the winning instinct that Barrichello lacks so badly…

    Massa needs quite an improvement to become world champion, but he can still make it, and I’m hopeful that we won’t need to wait for Piquet Jnr to see the next brazilian champion!

  9. Michael K said on 28th January 2008, 12:40

    This year we will see how much on the same level Massa and Räikkönen really are. I have this feeling that Kimi will come out the clear winner after participating in the development of the car from a much earlier point than last year. Massa may have similar or even faster pace than Räikkönen on his day but I don’t think he is consistent enough. Maybe he is no Rubens, but more like a Montoya…

  10. Toncho said on 28th January 2008, 13:10

    Keith, that article doesn’t apply to the pit lane (leting apart that the engineer-team didn’t give him a go because of the traffic).

    About Massa, he was unlucky to suffer those problems when he was the quick horse, still he is one step behind the “big three”.

    Who might be the new quick boy?? I will put my money in Bourdelais or Vettel. Rosberg, Kubica or Heikki will make a step forward??

  11. Steven Roy said on 28th January 2008, 13:17

    If you think Massa and Raikkonen are on the same level you should go and read Mark Hughes’s analysis of how the drivers are performing without the electronics. Massa according to Hughes is struggling badly without the toys whereas Webber is looking good. Maybe a lot of the smoothing out of Massa’s technique was because of the electronics.

    Massa equal to Raikkonen. No chance. In 2007 Kimi struggled with the car for half the season and Massa couldn’t match him over the season. In 2008 Kimi will have a car more suited to him from the off. He knows the team and the lack of toys will suit his style. I believe Massa is going to be very much number 2 in 2008.

  12. Keith Collantine (@keithcollantine) said on 28th January 2008, 14:09

    The Alonso/Hungary discussion has been had again and again (and again and again and again and again) and I don’t think there’s much new to be said about it.

    Article 23 addresses the pit lane and doesn’t say anything about rules on impeding not being enforced there. I can’t see anything in the regulations that says the rule against impeding other drivers does not apply in the pit lane. Can anyone else?

    Back to Massa, I wonder how many people here think he will finish ahead of Raikkonen in the championship this year? I wouldn’t put my money on it.

  13. I think Massa also had poor strategy sometimes. So it’s not only about reliability.

  14. Massa seems out of his element whenever he has to come from behind. Good driver when out front, but seems at a loss as to how or where to overtake. Alonso, Kimi, and Hamilton seem to have a natural sense of when to pull off the pass.

    Kimi will outshine Massa this year, or any other year. And based on how much Ferrari pay him (same as Lewis at McLaren) Kimi will be given every opportunity to be the team leader and No. 1 driver.

  15. Daniel said on 28th January 2008, 18:01

    Yeah, the traction control stuff should worry me a little, as Massa openly complained about it, and surely it’s easier to know who’s best without driver aids.

    But I’ll wait until Melbourne to see what happens, as the pre-season testing is important, but not decisive at all… Otherwise, you would be worried about Lewis’ performance, compared to Heikki’s last week…

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