Category archive: Felipe Massa
There was a brief moment in 2008 when it appeared that Felipe Massa was a world champion.
At the season finale in Brazil, Massa was the man to cross the line first, and the celebrations began for Ferrari. But in the waning moments, Lewis Hamilton claimed the position he needed to secure the championship from Massa by just a single point.
It was an unimaginably heartbreaking defeat for the Brazilian in front of his home crowd after coming so close to the ultimate achievement. While one driver was celebrating a title, another was reeling from a cruel twist.
Since that close call, Massa has been forced to endure some very trying times.
The following year, Massa was struck in the helmet by debris while qualifying in Hungary. He was sidelined for the rest of the year while recovering, but made a triumphant comeback at Bahrain to open the 2010 season, finishing on the podium.
Despite the impressive return, he has yet to win since that 2008 campaign, a year in which he enjoyed a half-dozen victories, and has consistently been overshadowed by his latest teammate, Fernando Alonso.
While this season is still young, it has been anything but positive for Massa, as he's started outside the top 10 in both events. China is certainly going to be a pivotal qualifying session, considering the veteran hasn't started three straight races from 10th or worse since his days with Sauber in 2005.
Alonso's victory in Malaysia only brought Massa's troubles more into the spotlight. Rumors have swirled over a possible replacement driver at Ferrari, much as they did during last season. A podium finish would seemingly go a long way toward quelling doubts, but that appears to be a lofty goal, considering he has not finished among the top three since 2010.
Following his near brush with a championship in 2008, it appeared as if Massa was destined to compete among the top drivers for years to come, but that has simply not been the case. He has since struggled to keep pace with the strongest runners, posting just six podiums in 49 races since 2009.
Compare that with his first three seasons with Ferrari, when he tallied 27 in 53 grands prix.
It has often appeared since his comeback that he has simply been the victim of plain misfortune, with a prime example occurring in Germany in 2010. Massa was looking strong and fighting for the victory, but team orders prevailed, and he was essentially forced to move aside and allow Alonso to overtake.
Even on a day when Massa was excelling, he ultimately had to experience bitter defeat.
Massa is not backing down, however, and has been working hard to turn his fortunes around, as he described on Ferrari's website: "I met my engineer Rob Smedley and I spent a lot of time with Pat Fry, going over everything that happened, because this is the only way I think we can understand the reasons behind these two bad weekends. I am disappointed, there is no denying it: not scoring any points in two races hurts, but now it's time to turn the page. It's not the first time I've gone through a difficult moment like this and I know well that things can change quickly."
It's looking pretty bleak for Massa these days, and his time with Ferrari certainly appears limited. The pace of the Ferrari will be a major storyline over the coming weeks and months. Perhaps with some innovations, the car -- and Massa -- can become a consistent competitor.
Korea's event on the calendar represents so much of what Formula One is becoming, an ever-expanding sport that continues to delve into new markets, including India and Russia in the near future. While it is certainly exciting to venture into the unknown, it leaves a considerable number of questions to be answered by both the teams and the spectators.
Mark Thompson/Getty ImagesSebastian Vettel celebrates after winning the Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka Circuit on Oct. 10.
Fans want to see competitive racing on exciting tracks, and the newer circuits on the calendar have been a mixed bag of late. The season finale last year at Abu Dhabi left much to be desired, while the spectacle that is Singapore has quickly become a favorite among drivers and fans alike. It's a very delicate balance between adding venues while ensuring that the traditional tracks, such as Spa, Monaco, Monza and Silverstone, remain on the schedule each season. It is no secret that new locales offer huge financial opportunities compared to long-standing events, but Korea is an interesting example.
The track is hours away from South Korea's capital of Seoul and provides a challenge for teams in regards to car setup, as the circuit not only has the longest straight on the F1 calendar (more than a kilometer) but also a mixture of several fast and slow corners. There's also the issue of it being a new track, with grip levels near zero for the race weekend.
A few drivers in the field have the benefit of winning at a new track recently. Sebastian Vettel claimed victory at Abu Dhabi last year, another circuit that runs counter clockwise. Two years ago, Felipe Massa won the first race on the Valencia Street Circuit, while Fernando Alonso took the victory at Singapore in a most controversial fashion that same season.
Drivers who have won on a new track (since 2008):• Sebastian Vettel, Abu Dhabi (2009)
• Felipe Massa, Valencia (2008)
• Fernando Alonso, Singapore (2008)
Alonso may take the checkered flag at Korea, as he's finished very well at several circuits this year that emphasize straight-line speed. While he had to retire at Spa, the Spaniard won at Monza, the fastest track on the schedule. Monza was one of the tracks this season that concerned Red Bull, as the team has not been the quickest on straightaways. That could also mean that the playing field is more so leveled for McLaren as well, considering Lewis Hamilton won at a very fast Spa this summer and is one of the best at adapting to new venues quickly. In 2008, he finished second at Valencia and third at Singapore. Last year in Abu Dhabi, Hamilton took the pole but had to retire with brake issues.
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner summed up his concerns to reporters earlier: "Korea is new for everybody, but looking at the track layout -- with the longest straight on the calendar -- you'd have to say that's going to be tough for us because of the package we have. But Sectors 2 and 3 have quite a lot of fast, flowing corners so hopefully they should suit our chassis strengths more."
So much is on the line at a track where so little is known. Three drivers are within a race win of each other, with two more just beyond. To put that better into perspective, in the epic title years of 2007 and 2008, only two drivers were within a win of each other atop the standings with three races remaining.
Most drivers within a race win with three races remaining (since 2000):
• 2010 -- three
• 2003 -- three
• 2008 -- two
• 2007 -- two
• 2006 -- two
• 2000 -- two
Another angle entering this weekend would be to take a look at how the contenders have faired in Asia this season. In the four events on the continent thus far (Malaysia, China, Singapore and Japan), Vettel has really shined, scoring three podiums and two wins, including at Japan just recently. Compare that to an average finishing mark of 7.1 everywhere else, and it is likely that Vettel is very happy to be back on Asian soil. Teammate Mark Webber has also been very strong in Asia, with a 3.8 average finish. It's Hamilton who has had the issues, compiling an average finish of eighth while reaching the podium only once.
Best average finish among contenders in Asian races this season:
• Sebastian Vettel -- 2.5 (2 wins)
• Mark Webber -- 3.8 (0)
• Jenson Button -- 4.3 (1)
• Fernando Alonso -- 5.3 (1)
• Lewis Hamilton -- 8.0 (0)
For the title contenders, survival has become the name of the game.
After a chaotic race at Suzuka, especially at the start, the importance of a strong starting position on the grid is in focus again.
Without it, you risk getting caught up in the mayhem. Fernando Alonso's teammate will likely tell you as much. Felipe Massa started 12th after a poor qualifying effort, and after trying to do too much before the first bend, collected Vitantonio Liuzzi after veering off track.
While Massa is not in the title hunt, he's a very experienced driver who rarely makes mistakes. But the pressure of getting a superb start from mid-pack can get the best of even the most seasoned pilots, and the five drivers still in pursuit of the series championship should certainly be wary.
Aside from the start, Suzuka yielded few surprises in regards to finishing order. The five title hopefuls occupied the top five places, with Sebastian Vettel leading teammate Mark Webber to the line. Red Bull was the favorite entering, and track time prior to the race was limited due to the horrendous weather.
In the meantime, Alonso continued his run of podiums, as the Spaniard has found himself among the top three in five of the past six races.
But it was Vettel who occupied the top step, a sight many figured to see much more often than has played out this season.
After all, Suzuka was his first victory since Valencia in June, which was eight races ago. More importantly, Vettel made up seven valuable points on Webber, and along with Alonso, is 14 points behind the Australian for the championship lead.
While Vettel has been inconsistent this season, his short career has already been very impressive.
In only his third full season, he has already finished as high as second in the points (last season) and has eight race wins, more than every other driver except Lewis Hamilton since the start of 2008.
It is obvious to say that Vettel has made his fair share of mistakes, but he's an unbelievable talent who is just 23, and he'll likely be a multiple-time champion before his career is over.
And while many view Michael Schumacher 's 91 career wins as untouchable, Vettel is one of a few current drivers with the best chance to at least match Alain Prost in second with 51 victories, benefiting not only from remarkable skill sets, but also due to entering into Formula One at such a young age.
Prost got a relatively late start in Formula One and did not get his first win until his second season (1981), when he was already 26.
Because of the early starts by Alonso, Vettel and Hamilton, those three drivers could easily occupy spots two through four on the all-time wins list before their careers are over.
Also worth a mention from the weekend is Kamui Kobayashi's performance in front of his home crowd. The hometown favorite finished seventh after starting 14th and leads all rookies this season in points earned with 27.
If he can cut down on the retirements, he has the potential to be a star in this sport.
Korea, quite possibly the most intriguing event of the season, is up next.
Not much is known about how this event will play out, but the circuit itself is certainly unique. Two long straights are punctuated with some sharp, slow corners, and the entire second half of the circuit is a mix of twists and turns.
Likely the best, and possibly only, overtaking opportunities will be at the end of the main straights entering Turns 1 and 3. It could very well be a fairly processional race which sees little passing.
As teams pack for Belgium, a strong sense of uncertainty looms.
Formula One cars have remained dormant for nearly a month, with mandatory factory shutdowns in place for a span of two weeks. In an attempt to put that length of time in perspective, Sebastian Vettel's crushing penalty with the safety car on the track -- which seems like ages ago -- was only just last race.
No team heads to Spa as the overwhelming favorite. Red Bull is concerned about its straight-line speeds; both current McLaren drivers made it less than a full lap last year at Spa and are coming off dismal results in Hungary; and Ferrari, although showing improvement in the past several race weekends, still has some speed to make up.
The Maranello outfit does, however, have the advantage of employing one of just two active winners at Spa-Francorchamps (Felipe Massa in 2008). The other is of course Michael Schumacher, but if he were to win Sunday, it would be the most surprising victory of his career.
This season, among circuits that have hosted at least three F1 events, no track has had fewer previous race winners entered (Turkey also had just two entering 2010, but didn't start hosting F1 races until 2005). That likely means a first-time winner will emerge at Spa, one of the most prestigious races of the year.
So, who is the likeliest first-time candidate? If recent history has anything to say, it's that momentum matters, even if the series has been on holiday for nearly a month. Consider that the past three winners at Spa have finished on the podium in the race immediately before Belgium.
Additionally, no points leader entering Spa has left victorious since Schumacher in 2002, which leaves Fernando Alonso and Vettel (who both finished on the podium in Hungary behind Mark Webber) as the men to watch this weekend. Vettel finished on the podium here last year, and Alonso did so in 2007. The odds seem favorable for one of them to find himself on the top step Sunday, but, as we've witnessed this season, nothing is guaranteed.
Spa-Francorchamps has a remarkable history.
It held its first race in the early 1920s, about when the 24 Hours of Le Mans was introduced in France. Throughout the 1950s and 60s in Formula One, it ran approximately twice the length of its current layout and could best be described as having long straightaways that were broken up by even longer straightaways.
The sheer speed of the track made it very dangerous, and many drivers perished there in those decades. Jackie Stewart nearly died in the 1966 edition and, because of his experiences, led the rally for significant safety improvements throughout Formula One.
The track today is still one of the fastest on the planet and is well regarded among drivers for its various challenges: flat-out straights, elevation changes, and slow- and high-speed corners alike.
Spa's position on the calendar is fitting, as it's the perfect tuneup directly before another very quick circuit: Monza.
The most successful makes in F1 history, Ferrari and McLaren, have taken this track by storm in recent seasons.
Although the two have always been good at Spa, they have been sensational in the past nine events.
The manufacturers have combined to sweep all nine races, with a total of five drivers experiencing victory in that span. Not since Jordan in 1998 has another make taken the checkered flag here, and that run could continue, pending Red Bull's performance.
With the summer recess spanning several weeks, it's the ideal time to reflect back on the season while also taking a glance into the future. The 2010 F1 World Championship certainly has delivered to this point, and we've already seen something that has never previously happened in Formula One.
With only seven races remaining, the F1 standings have been led by six drivers, the most leaders through 12 races in series history.
It tops the previous record of four drivers pacing the standings through 12 events, done most recently in 2008. That season saw one of the best conclusions in motorsports history, when Lewis Hamilton overtook Timo Glock on the final corner in Brazil to seize the title from Felipe Massa. This year, the duos from Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren all have led or shared the lead at one point.
The 1986 battle was a classic, as Nigel Mansell looked primed to take his first career title when his left-rear tire burst in Australia, handing the championship to Alain Prost by a slim 2-point margin. The 1974 season was equally thrilling, as Emerson Fittipaldi and Clay Regazzoni entered the final race at Watkins Glen tied for the points lead, with South African Jody Scheckter in striking distance. Fittipaldi ended up claiming the championship.
History is a clear indicator that this year's title chase likely will be just as riveting. Five of the drivers to lead this season -- minus Massa, who trails by 64 points -- have a fantastic chance to earn a world championship, and depending on how things shuffle out in Spa, any one of those men could be leading the standings heading to Monza.
But does any of them have an edge? While that might be difficult to say, recent years have shown that two drivers have been superior after the traditional summer break. Hamilton, who typically is strong during the summer months, also has been a top performer after the late-summer recess in his career. Since his inaugural season in 2007, his 95 combined points earned after the break in that span paces all five contenders. Fernando Alonso is second with 92 points driving for both McLaren and Renault. Those two might be the ones to keep an eye on down the stretch.
Despite only 30 points earned by Button during that span, his level of concern should not be very high. Two of those seasons were with Honda, and despite a less-than-strong second-half performance last season, Button still earned 25 points after the break, only five shy of Hamilton.
The man who might be a bit apprehensive about the remaining seven races is Webber. While Red Bull did not truly become a top runner until last season, his 18 points after the 2009 summer recess was roughly half that of teammate Vettel's 37.
The series' next stop, Spa, has been harsh on Webber as well. In six races, he's never finished on the podium and collected just eight points in that span. In his rookie season with Minardi in 2002, Webber made it just four laps before having to retire with gearbox issues.
His next race at Spa came in 2004, and it was less than memorable, as he got caught up in a chaotic start and crashed in Eau Rouge on the opening lap. The following year, Webber took home fourth place for Williams but was more than a minute behind winner Kimi Raikkonen. In 2007 and 2008, Webber finished seventh and eighth, respectively. Last season, he finished one place outside the points.
Still, momentum is on the Australian's side, as he has won half of the past eight races and is at the top of the standings.
This is the definitive weekend for Michael Schumacher. In front of his home fans, he'll surely want to put on a good show, and this is a track he is comfortable with.
AP Photo/Burhan OzbiliciAn exceptional qualifying effort will be a must for seven-time F1 champ Michael Schumacher at Hockenheim.
The seven-time world champion has won the Grand Prix of Germany at Hockenheim four times (most of any Formula One driver), with three of those victories coming since the revamped track opened in 2002. He'll need the fastest of cars to compete with the likes of McLaren and Red Bull, and a good qualifying effort is imperative; no driver has won at Hockenheim from beyond the third starting position since 2000. Under the new layout, only once has a winner emerged from behind the front row (Fernando Alonso started third in 2005). It is a tall task for Schumacher these days, but a podium finish seems more likely here than anywhere else for the German.
Another driver who could definitely use a boost is Felipe Massa. Coming off three consecutive finishes of 11th or worse, the Brazilian will be looking to avoid some history Sunday. If he finishes outside the top 10, he'd be the first Ferrari driver to do so in four straight single-season races since Eddie Irvine in 1996. He'll likely avoid that dubious honor, though, as in two races here with Ferrari, he's checked in second in 2006 and third in 2008.
Most consecutive finishes worse than 10th (single season by Ferrari drivers since 2000)
2010 -- Felipe Massa -- Three*
2002 -- Rubens Barrichello -- Three
2000 -- Michael Schumacher -- Three
* active streak
After fighting back from a poor grid position in Great Britain, Jenson Button will be hunting for an outright win at Hockenheim. He finished second there in 2004 driving for BAR and third in 2005. If he were to taste victory, he would move into ninth on F1's all-time points list, ahead of Nigel Mansell.
True, Button has been aided by a revamped system this year, but up through 2009, the points payout was very similar to the systems in place throughout the past few decades. Even without his points earned this season, Button would still rank among the top 20, ahead of names such as Carlos Reutemann. For now, it's impressive company, but if the current points system continues to be utilized, climbing the list will of course become a mere afterthought.
Button certainly has been heating up lately, outgaining all but teammate Lewis Hamilton in points over the past four events. Indeed, those four races starting with Turkey have gone a long way in determining the standings.
Hockenheim's history has taken the course of a few other Formula One circuits. Often considered one of the more dangerous tracks, the old layout had straightaways broken up only by several chicanes. By 2002, those straights were gone and a new layout was devised. The circuit is still very quick but is considerably shorter in length (now just 4½ kilometers). Today, the old section of the track has been returned to the earth, much like the fate of Monza and Fuji's old, banked high-speed ovals.
It's a track that has wounded title hopes, including those of Kimi Raikkonen, Ralf Schumacher and Barrichello in 2003. All three entered the race among the top five in driver points but were caught in an accident in the opening corner of the race. Raikkonen ended up losing the title by two points, the same margin that eventual champion Michael Schumacher came away with in Germany.
While there are still nine races left on the 2010 calendar, it's worth noting that British drivers occupy the top two spots in the world championship standings. If that holds true through the rest of the season, it would be the first time that British drivers finished first and second since 1968, when Graham Hill claimed his final title and Jackie Stewart finished runner-up. That year also saw the first victory for British entry McLaren. It was a particularly tumultuous season, as Hill's teammate and fellow Brit Jim Clark was killed in a Formula Two race at Hockenheim.
Sunday marks the six-year anniversary of Schumacher's win in Germany, his 11th win in the first 12 races of the 2004 season. Times have certainly changed, as Schumacher would go on to clinch the drivers' title with a remarkable four races to spare that year. This year, a podium finish would probably feel like a win, especially on home turf. Then again, it may end up being another German in Vettel who steals the spotlight.
It's going to be very difficult for the action on the circuit in 2010 to equal the chaos that was the Formula One offseason.
In the span of just around four months, we saw the all-time winningest F1 driver announce his historic comeback, the reigning F1 champ leave his post to join another team, a former world champion -- Kimi Raikkonen -- leave the sport altogether, a points system modified and then tweaked again, an in-race refueling ban announced, the addition of several newcomers (as well as the subtraction of USF1) and 16 drivers debuting with a new team for 2010.
Let's start with Jenson Button.
The 2009 F1 champion left Brawn GP to join McLaren and 2008 champion Lewis Hamilton. It's certainly not the first time a driver has left his team for another squad immediately following a championship season.
Since 1980, the defending champion has left his team following the season eight different times, including Button. Alain Prost left Williams in 1993 but retired, while Nigel Mansell departed for CART following his 1992 championship. Fernando Alonso was the most recent to do it, finishing a single point behind champion Kimi Raikkonen in 2007 after leaving Renault following his title-winning season of 2006.
Other drivers have had varying success; Damon Hill struggled with a bad Arrows team in 1997, finishing outside the top 10 while collecting just seven points. Schumacher departed Benetton following his second straight title in 1995, joining a beleaguered Ferrari squad. Schumacher battled opponents as well as his car throughout 1996, finishing third in the standings while collecting three race wins.
Alain Prost and Nelson Piquet both made the move in the late 1980s; Prost finished second in his first season with Ferrari in 1990, while Piquet checked in sixth in 1988 with Lotus after leaving Williams. If Button wants to win the title this season, he's clearly got some history to battle with.
AP Photo/Lefteris PitarakisTyhe past two world champions are on one team, with 2008 champ Lewis Hamilton, left, welcoming 2009 victor Jenson Button on board.
Schumacher's return to F1, while not shocking after his attempted comeback last season, certainly raised eyebrows throughout the F1 community.
Following several weeks of preseason testing, Ferrari, Red Bull and McLaren appeared to lead the way, with Schumacher's Mercedes squad (formerly Brawn GP) in the mix as well, if not just a tick slower. Schumacher will have to battle not only a three-year absence from the sport, but numerous rule changes and new competitors, as well.
A revised points system was implemented to accommodate the additions of Hispania, Lotus and Virgin (also with the expectation of USF1's arrival, but that has since fallen through). Mid-race refueling has also been banned, meaning fuel tanks are now much larger and the car has a longer wheelbase and more weight. Also consider the radical design changes the cars underwent prior to the 2009 season, eliminating many of the aerodynamic properties Schumacher previously knew.
Young superstars Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel have also joined the series since Schumacher retired following the 2006 season.
Even the opening-round venue is not the same as last year.
The 2009 schedule had Australia host the first race of the season, while this year, the venue has been switched to Bahrain. A regular on the schedule since 2004, Bahrain's layout for the F1 race this year has been altered to include the extended backstretch, meaning it is now the second-longest circuit on the schedule behind Spa.
That's great news for Red Bull driver Vettel, who scored two wins and three podiums on the four longest circuits of last season. Keeping with that theme, as Vettel is one of the popular selections to win the championship this season, the winner at Bahrain has won the title in the same season four times out of six.
Felipe Massa is a rare exception; he won the 2008 race at Bahrain, but finished second by a single point to Hamilton in the championship. Keeping with the common theme, Massa too made headlines this offseason with his comeback from injury along with the fact he has a new teammate in two-time champion Alonso at Ferrari.
This season looks to be incredibly balanced at the top, and it's anybody's guess as to who takes home the first race, much less the title.