Felipe Massa: the driver debates

Posted on | Author Keith Collantine

Felipe Massa is in the thick of the title battle - can he become champion?
Felipe Massa is in the thick of the title battle - can he become champion?

Felipe Massa must be the leading candidate for most improved driver of 2008. In fact, you could make that case for the last two seasons, since he put the shaky start to his Ferrari debut in 2006 behind him.

This time twelve months ago he didn’t look like being the man who would lead the Italian team’s championship bid this year, but that’s exactly what’s happened. So can he go all the way to win the title?

Finding his feet at Ferrari

Massa’s move to Ferrari in 2006 was met with a degree of scepticism. It was hard to point to many stand-out performances from his three years at Sauber, and the convenience of his manager being Jean Todt’s son led to conclusions that Massa was being planted at Ferrari as a competent but non-threatening number two to keep Michael Schumacher happy.

That assessment was borne out in the first half of 2006. Massa made high-profile mistakes at Bahrain, Melbourne at Monaco. But as the year progressed he settled down and scored his maiden win at Istanbul – he remains undefeated at the track since – and a popular win in his home race.

This season started badly for Massa with mistakes at Melbourne and Sepang. But since then he’s scored points regularly, largely stayed out of trouble, and above all he’s usually had the beating of Kimi Raikkonen.

Championship contender

This is perhaps the most surprising thing of all because many expected Raikkonen to have little trouble keeping Massa down – especially having won last year’s championship.

It’s a very rare thing for the drivers’ championship to pass from one driver to another while the two are in the same team (Alain Prost did it twice).

But Massa, just one point behind Hamilton in the standings (seven if Hamilton wins his appeal), could do it. It would be especially ironic given that Massa relinquishing the lead of last year’s Brazilian Grand Prix helped Raikkonen become champion.

Weak spots

There are two particular areas in which I think Massa is yet to prove himself capable beyond question.

This first is race craft. Although he passed more drivers on track than anyone else last year, the statistic is flattered by the occasions on which he found himself towards the back of the grid having to pass much slower cars. It’s hard to think of many occasions where he’s gone wheel-to-wheel with other front-runners and come out on top, apart from his pass on Lewis Hamilton at the start of the Hungarorian Grand Prix.

Part of this perceived race craft weakness are his defensive skills. He more-or-less pulled over and let Lewis Hamilton pass him at Hockenheim. Last year Fernando Alonso brushed him aside late in the race at the Nurburgring to take the win.

The Nurburgring race ended in wet conditions, which is the other scenario where Massa struggled. But, like his race craft, this is an area where we have seen clear signs of improvement this year, particularly at Monaco. Still, that nightmare race at Silverstone will linger in the memory for a while.

There are competing explanations for what’s behind Massa’s turnaround. I think it’s hard to discount the observation that he’s simply improved with time. Plenty has been said about the role of Michael Schumacher and Rob Smedley in getting more out of Massa but, important though they have surely been, they can’t get in the car and drive it for him. Massa has simply been getting the job done, and his technical approach and/or driving style appear to get more out of the F2008 than Raikkonen’s do.

Massa has visibly improved almost every aspect of his game since joining Ferrari. But is he now world championship-winning material? Would he make a good champion? Have your say in the comments.

Read more about Felipe Massa: Felipe Massa biography

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62 comments on “Felipe Massa: the driver debates”

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  1. I can’t help but be reminded of Irvine coming close to winning it in 1999. I never rated him and I don’t rate Massa. Coincidentally both were/are in the situation driving for Ferrari and there are suspicions they were both hired to support Schumacher. Thanks Ferrari.

    If Massa wins this year I reckon he will be the least ‘complete’ driver to do so in recent times. It’s interesting though that he’ll have done so with Kimi alongside, hardly the easiest of competition, even when he can’t be bothered to race.

    Still, any victory will be tainted if it’s less than 6 points and McLaren fail in their appeal.

  2. If Felipe wins this year, it will be more of Lewis and Kimi losing it than, Felipe winning it.

    BTW, Keith : I can’t wait for where you put Vettel and Massa in your yearly driver reviews.

  3. Felipe really impressed me with his start at Valencia, but he hasn’t done things like that often enough. His wet weather driving is weak and he is pretty inconsistent. Many have said it and you can see if you watch yourself, he doesn’t take the same line through a corner each lap. What the hell is that about?

    Furthermore his implication that the blatently unsafe pitstop release was in fact somehow Sutil’s fault for not getting out of his way was bizarre. He really let himself down with that one. Anyone think he apologised in private? I don’t.

    For me it highlights just how many unecessary mistakes Raikkonen and Hamilton have made that this guy is still strongly in contention for the title.

  4. Isn’t it interesting, in most other fields of endeavour we applaud a person who betters themselves and becomes a champion by enhancing their talent with hard work and passion.

    But in sport we assess someone when they debut and then stick to that opinion through thick and thin.

    I started watching F1 in 1985 and fell in love with Mansell. I couldn’t understand why most F1 pundits didn’t rate him! It was only later that I realised how long he had been mucking about doing not too much before he got his Mojo and became a champion.

    As it is with Felipe.

    Right from the start he was very quick. And as Schumi’s teammate he showed the astonish ability to beat the great man in equal machinery! But the questions about he erratic efforts and weaknesses in the wet and pressure conditions remained.

    He has worked hard and improved enormously from those early days. I still have the feeling that he will fall apart before this dance is over, but he has put Kimi away in the same car and taken the fight to the amazing Lewis Hamilton.

    If he wins the title this year, it will be enormously well deserved and a tremendous development.

    Forza Felipe!!

  5. I agree with the analysis of the Massa ‘completeness’. He is definitely a very quick driver, but all of his wins (I don’t consider Spa, obviously) came in similar, smooth conditions for him: ahead since the first corner, the fastest car on the track, no overtakes to do, good weather conditions.

  6. @ Sumedh and Diseased Rat

    Surely a Felipe win in 2008 would be no more fortuitous and lucky then Kimi 07?

    @ Phil B

    I can’t remember Irvine racing and beating Schumi fair and square like Felipe did at Turkey and Brazil. Give him credit man, the guy is quick!

  7. I like Massa, always have. His driving has a personality and I like that about him.

    I also think the championship is his for the taking.

  8. “If Felipe wins this year, it will be more of Lewis and Kimi losing it than, Felipe winning it.”

    as opposed Massa winning the championship because Lewis and Kimi DOMINATED.

    I honestly dont understand the logic behind those sort of sentence’s, winning by virtue of your main rivals losing is still winning… they LOST

    I’ll be honest, I didn’t rate him at all, i’m in the camp of, “he’s been doing that for how long?” but my eyes are open now, on his day he can beat Alonso and ShoeMaker fair and square…. and now those days are becoming more frequent.

  9. he is quick yes, consistant no.
    tho he has been so far this year! the year isnt over yet and i also expect he may falter at some stage, but so far this year he has suprised me, and the winner of the title from here will be the guy who makes the least errors, it’s been that kind of season, so this is now a test once and for all of just how good he really is.
    watch this space

  10. Kimi’s last 10 races have been such rubbish due to rediculous cirmcanstances, Massa basically just has had to finish the race to get more points…and thus has found himself in title contention. Hamilton as well has had problems which obviously helped Massa’s cause.

    I don’t like Massa’s attitude whereas he blames everything else when something goes wrong, but when he wins it was all down to him…even france.

  11. I think Massa will win this year if Kimi is willing to help and …. if there are no more wet races. It is likely to happen that way.
    However, I do not rank him to the same level as Kimi, Lewis and Alonso. He’s lucky to drive a competitive car. If he cannot take victory this year, he will become second Barrichello.
    Anyway, Good luck to him.

  12. i agree, he’s also yet to succeed in a ‘make something out of nothing’ situation.
    as i said earlier it’s a test to see how he goes under preasure, as he has yet to prove he can cope with this situation.

  13. while I sing his praises, i get the feeling he’s may be out of his depth next year, with new regs.

  14. @ Kavana… I don’t know if Massa always blames the team when he loses, I have heard him say in press conferences, that he could have done this or that or not made this mistake and so on. But the team have let him down on at least two occasions, the first was when they failed to put enough petrol in his car, totally out of Massa’s control, the second was the engine failure in Hungary. Massa may have contributed a little by his driving, but then Kimi’s engines have failed so it seems the unreliability with the engine is there. Massa is unlucky not be leading the comp at present and he really needs it not to rain to win it

  15. I have a small suspicion that Massa may well have a bit more effect in how the cars been developed this year. Kimi is hardly known for a fantastic work ethic, and it’s become incresingly clear that the car doesn’t suit him as much as it does Massa.

    If Massa has learned anything from Schumacher (as is so often claimed), it’d surely be how to develop a car – something Schumacher excelled at.

  16. I don’t really like Massa. In my Word .doc of my list of who are my favorite F1 drivers on the grid, Massa was P20 for some time, and P22 with Aguri. But boy, after that race at Budapest, I had to peg him a few spots from the bottom.

    He has improved. And in all honesty, his 2007 wasn’t particularly that much better than 2006, when he had a solid second half with the rapidly improving B’Stones and the F2006. That and Ferrari didn’t know what to do with the two in July and nearly let the two McLaren drivers run away with it for themselves.

    This year though, he actually has shown enough consistency to compare himself with Hamilton. And that is what it takes to contend. Will he become WDC? Remains to be seen, but he is only one point back (that appeal won’t be rewarded) and that’s all you can ask for. He has comprehensively dominated Kimi and deserves the position he is in at the moment.


  17. @Terry Fabulous

    True and I’m not saying he’s quite as bad as Irvine, nor that he’s slow. On his day, when everything goes his way, he has a tail wind and it’s dry he can be very quick. I just think that he’s missing too many of the ‘pieces’ of the complete racing driver to be a worthy WDC.

    I reckon Eddie Irvine as WDC would have been a complete joke.

  18. Phil B – And yet, had they been using the points system used today in 1999, Irvine would have been champion: 1999 statistics

  19. Kimi is the fastest man in F1. He is also world-champion. And yet Massa has beaten Kimi to the ground this season. I mean, this isn’t luck. It is Holyfield pounding Tyson. The man is good. I think it will take one more season like this one and people will give him his due.

  20. Keith, Thankfully we had the old points system! Anyway if the point system had been different the strategies etc would have been as well, not to mention the design of the cars. Probably the results would have been as well. I’m always a bit suspicious of any mix and matching of championships components….

    Personally I prefer the old scoring method, I think first place has greater superiority over second than second does over third. The old points system reflected this. I would actually like to see more points awarded for the lowly places, maybe something like 20,15,12,10,9…….

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