The Massa delusion

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

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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