Felipe Massa is a BRILLIANT driver

Ferrari are not a team to tolerate poor quality. No matter what loyalties are involved, if you can’t keep up with the requirements, you’re out, however long you have left on your contract. Yet when it comes to Felipe Massa the Prancing Horse seem to have had a change of heart. But is this really the case? Has the accident in Hungary really cost Massa his ability, or is something else going on?

Most fans, from what I can tell, believe that Massa’s poor form comes from his accident. However, if we look at his results upon his return to F1, we can see that this is not the case. The 2010 Ferrari was an excellent car, scoring podiums almost all season. Designed around Alonso, the car was always bound to favour the Spaniard, but Massa showed the world in Bahrain that he hadn’t lost his ability.
He took second in qualifying, just a tenth behind Vettel, and in the race he finished second. He came third in the next race, beating Alonso by two seconds. Now, he was second in the WDC, Alonso in the lead. After Malaysia, an engine failure for Alonso put Massa at the top of the championship. He continued to score points up to the Turkish Grand Prix, before three tough races for the Brazilian that would then be followed by the scandal at Hockenheim.
Canada, Valencia and Britain saw Massa score 0 points, but nobody was calling for his retirement. When he led the race in Hockenheim, everyone hoped for a Massa victory. When Ferrari refused to let him fight for position against Alonso, we were angry. We knew Massa was just as good as he had been before, and deserved a fair chance at victory.
Despite this, Massa did well for the next few races. At Hungary, Belgium and Italy he performed on a par with Alonso, including third place at Monza. After Monza, however, things seemed to go downhill. It is interesting that this should happen after the Scuderia’s home race. He picked up third at Korea – an extraordinary wet race – and this would be his most recent podium.
Ferrari knew that Robert Kubica had one year left at Renault, and though Massa’s performance was dropping as the team struggled to make such a great car, they kept him on. Surely the intention was to bring Kubica in for 2012. But as we all know, this never happened. Massa picked up points regularly, and seemed to end up clashing with Hamilton far too often. Alonso, always able to make the best of a tricky car, shone and got many podiums including the win at Silverstone. Silverstone in fact was Massa’s best race of the season, and he was closing fast on Hamilton by the end of the race. He almost got the lead into the final corner, but the Briton fought well. Still, it was a great example of how Massa can still drive brilliantly when Ferrari are at their best.
This year hasn’t been so good for Massa. It is clear he needs to be in a good car to shine, but when you’re in Formula One you can’t always get the best car. With Perez set to stay at Sauber (which is a better car than the Ferrari at the moment), I cannot think that any other driver would be brought in to replace the Brazilian. If future updates work, I think Massa will shine again. Having watched his kart race, the Desafio das Estrelas, at the end of 2011, it is apparent that he is a brilliant driver. In fact, 5 live commentator Jaime Alguersuari was the one who won that event. He also has experience with Ferrari engines. But would Ferrari take that chance?
Massa seems destined to end his career after 2012, despite his ability. Bruno Senna’s short career may also be over too soon, leaving F1 without any Brazilians. It will be up to Luiz Razia and Felipe Nasr in GP2 to prove themselves to the F1 teams, and so far they have done a great job with a win and a third place respectively.

I will be sad to see Felipe Massa disappear from F1. He’s provided some extraordinary moments over the years. But there are still 18 races left in the season. Come on Felipe!

2011 review part 8 – Canada

The F1 circuit left Monaco for its sole trip to North America, where the cars would be roaring around the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. It was dry at the start of the weekend, but rain was predicted for Sunday.

Friday morning and it seemed Sergio Perez had fully recovered from his Monaco accident as he took part in FP1. Sebastian Vettel decided to take his first hit in the Wall of Champions. It was Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg who went fastest, with Alonso second and Schumacher third. The Mercs had good pace on this track.
About fifteen minutes before the second practise session began, Sauber announced a change in their plans for the weekend. Perez was not feeling well enough to drive, and his place was taken by McLaren test driver Pedro de la Rosa. The Spaniard is a tall driver, while Perez is much shorter, so he missed most of the second session while the pedals were adjusted. Fastest was Alonso, ahead of a recovered Sebastian Vettel.
On the Saturday, however, things were back to normal with the German leading. Alonso’s Ferrari was again running well and he finished second-fastest. Then it was time for qualifying.

Rain threatened in Montreal’s skies, but did not fall as Jarno Trulli beat his teammate for the first time in 2011. Liuzzi was ahead of Glock, Karthikeyan ahead of D’Ambrosio. Though the Belgian did not meet the 107% rule, he was allowed to race. Dropping out in Q1 was Jaime Alguersuari.
The second session saw Paul di Resta become the fastest of the dropouts, with Maldonado, Kobayashi and Sutil behind. Massa was fastest. De la Rosa managed 17th.
Finally, the shining Ferraris did their best to knock Vettel off pole, but despite being very close they did not manage it. As usual, it would be world champion Sebastian Vettel at the front for the race on Sunday.

Sunday came, and with it the promised rain. It began under the safety car, and as the rain lightened the car came in and the race really began. On the start-finish straight, Hamilton attempted to overtake his teammate through a closing gap and failed. He was out of the race, but Button was able to continue. He pitted to check for damage, but was okay. The safety car came out again as the damage was cleared. Button, who switched to intermediates on the drying track, was penalised for speeding under the safety car, putting him in 18th.
The race continued after the restart, with Vettel showing his skill in getting a good lead on his opponents at the hairpin. Button’s tyres were doing well, so others decided to pit for inters just before the rain worsened again. Vettel led from Kobayashi and Massa as the safety car came out for the third time, and eventually the red flags stopped the race.
For over two hours the cars sat on the grid, waiting for the restart. But it came, to the delight of the Canadian fans. The safety car led them away, and Kovalainen’s car broke down shortly after. The Finn was forced to retire. His teammate would also struggle, and be stuck at the back of the race for the remaining laps. The safety car was kept out a long time, and Virgin pitted Jerome d’Ambrosio for intermediates during this time. However, this was not allowed as they were supposed to be on wet tyres, and they received a drive-through penalty.
Once the racing restarted, Vettel led away from Kobayashi. The Japanese driver was busy holding off Massa. Everyone pitted for inters. Alonso tangled with Button and crashed out, though it was deemed a racing incident. Button had a puncture, and limped back to the pits as the safety car came out. Once again, Vettel pilled away easily on the restart – Button was at the back of the field. As Schumacher shone, Sutil crashed into the wall. Slicks were becoming the order of the day on a drying track. Schumacher was by now up to second, between Vettel and Massa.
Massa spun while trying to lap Karthikeyan, and recovered but lost third to Webber. Button, on a charge, was up to fourth! Heidfeld hit Kobayashi from behind and the safety car came out for the final time. Button fought his way past everyone, and was closing on Vettel by seconds every lap. On the final lap, he was close behind. Could the German hold the rainmaster off?
A mistake from Vettel – the first of the season! Button passed and took the lead for the first time in the race. He crossed the line and won! It was an incredible final lap, and this race will go down in F1 history.
Barrichello took two points for struggling Williams, while Tonio Liuzzi finished 13th for HRT to put them in 11th in the championship.
There were further retirements from Maldonado and di Resta, though the Brit was classified as he had his accident three laps before the end of the race.

F1 now returned to Valencia. Could DRS make a difference in this dull race? Well, I didn’t watch much of it. Nobody retired, Alguersuari went from the back to the points. Vettel won. And then they went to Britain, where F1 silly season would be in full force.

[To be continued]

d’Ambrosio gets Pic-axe

(I stole the title from someone else!)

It was an emotional Brazilian Grand Prix. For Jerome d’Ambrosio, it will most likely be his final F1 race unless he can go somewhere next season. He has been replaced at Marussia by excellent French GP2 driver Charles Pic. D’Ambrosio competed well against his German teammate, helped a bit by the car being more reliable. He finished 14th twice, with Glock’s best being 15th.

The race today was full of tension, but despite attempts by Jessica Michibata to perform the McLaren Rain Dance, none fell. Taking the lead from the start was polesitter Sebastian Vettel, with Mark Webber close behind. Alonso got between the two McLarens, but nobody could keep up with the Red Bulls. Early on, Vettel had gearbox problems, and though he held on, he lost some time to Webber. The Aussie took the lead, making it the first time both Red Bulls have led in the same race for the entirety of 2011.
Behind, Alonso overtook Button with a daring move arund the outside that will definitely go down as one of the best overtakes of the season. Towards the end of the race, the situation reversed itself as DRS and KERS brought Button back to third. The gap to Vettel was too far for the Brit to catch up in the remaining laps, and he settled for the bottom step of the podium.
In fifth came Felipe Massa. He had been having an okay race, not getting into trouble. Stopping later than most other drivers, he even led for a lap or two. Towards the final laps, the out-of-position McLarens came to overtaken the Brazilian. Jenson Button succeeded easily, but Lewis was struggling with gearbox problems. He tried hard to get past, and tension was in the air. But it was the McLaren gearbox that gave way first and Lewis parked up by the side of the track. At the end of the race, Felipe did some spectacular doughnuts before entering the pit lane. He was the final driver to finish on the lead lap.
Coming home sixth was a special treat for Force India’s Adrian Sutil. Despite driving well this season, the German seems likely to be replaced at the team by test driver Nico Hulkenberg. Sutil brilliantly overtook Nico Rosberg mid-race, and was definitely the driver of the race. In eighth was Sutil’s teammate Paul di Resta. The Scottish rookie has had a great first season, racking up 27 points to beat Jaime Alguersuari in the points. Sutil finishes with 42 points, placing him 9th in the championship.
In ninth was Kamui Kobayashi, making sure Sauber beat Toro Rosso, and in tenth was Vitaly Petrov. Kovalainen made sure Team Lotus secured 10th in the championship by finishing 16th and best of the new teams, ahead of Bruno Senna. Retirements came from Tonio Liuzzi, Lewis Hamilton, Pastor Maldonado and Timo Glock.

Maldonado has retired from seven races this season – more than any other driver – yet looks set to secure a drive for next season. By contrast, rookie Paul di Resta has led more laps than any other driver; the Scot has completed seven more than Fernando Alonso despite retiring in Turkey and Canada. He had late retirements in both races, however, whereas Alonso’s came earlier in the Canadian race.

From tomorrow, I will be figuring out season statistics and posting the most interesting ones here and on Twitter. I hope you have a great winter break!

Vettel and Bortolotti dominate in India and Spain

What a day! Formula One completed the inaugural running of the Indian Grand Prix (won, as expected, in a dominant fashion by Sebastian Vettel) and the F2 championship was completed.

F1
The sun was shining through the haze as twenty-four cars set off for the first corner. But only 23 made it through as Kamui Kobayashi got into an incident with a few other drivers including Barrichello and Glock. Barrichello pitted for a new front wing, and despite attempting to continue, Glock retired on lap two.
There was a second incident at the next corner, and Jarno Trulli received a puncture from one of the HRTs. He drove slowly back to the pits, but ended up finishing the race two laps behind Daniel Ricciardo. Trulli’s teammate Kovalainen, howver, had a good race. For the first half he scrapped with the back of the midfield, but after changing to hard tyres he could not keep in touch with Petrov, Perez and di Resta. The trio had got their hard tyre stint done in the first lap, which paid off in the form of a point for Perez.
The Toro Rossos had plenty of wings, and though Sebastien Buemi had a failure which forced him to retire, Jaime Alguersuari finished eighth. This puts the team level with Sauber on points, though Sauber are ahead due to a fifth-place finish for Kobayashi. Renault weren’t so lucky. Senna was running well but needed to use the hard tyre. He had to pit in the final few laps, losing him the chance of a point, while Petrov was unable to overtake Perez.
Schumacher had a brilliant start and finished fifth with teammate Rosberg unable to keep up. Rosberg was sixth. Behind them came Lewis Hamilton, who once again came off badly after an incident with Felipe Massa. It is astonishing how regularly they have collided this year. Massa was penalised with a drive-through, but later retired after breaking his suspension on one of the kerbs. The other driver who retired was Pastor Maldonado, who has been having problems all weekend. He also had a mechanical failure.
Sharing the podium with Vettel were Jenson Button – who had a relatively quiet race after being troubled by Webber – and Fernando Alonso who undercut Webber in the pits. If Red Bull are going to get Mark into second in the championship, it is going to be hard work; he is 19 points behind Button and 6 behind Alonso. The way Button has been running recently, he is most likely not to lose out to the Aussie or the Spaniard. As for Hamilton, he is 38 points behind Button. This is very likely to be the first season he is beaten by his teammate.
Elsewhere, the Renaults finished 11th and 12th, di Resta came home 13th ahead of Kovalainen, and the two HRTs finished behind d’Ambrosio in 17th and 18th for Karthikeyan and Ricciardo respectively. The Indian should consider this to be a good race.

F2
Two spectacular dominating races for Mirko Bortolotti saw him top the podium in Barcelona on Saturday and Sunday, starting each from pole. Second on Saturday was Miki Monras, who found himself in a no-man’s land between Bortolotti and his fellow-countryman Ramon Pineiro who came third. Pineiro was in a similar state. On Sunday, Pineiro came second, once again running a lonely race. Behind him, however, Mihai Marinescu fended off Monras for third. It was not enough for Pineiro to take second in the championship, but he did take a well-deserved third and will soon get to test a GP2 car along with Christopher Zanella. Bortolotti, however, will be packing for Abu Dhabi where he will participare in the young drivers’ test with Williams.
There was not a huge amount of overtaking in the race, but Mikkel Mac managed a spectacular pass on Jack Clarke. Alex Brundle finishes the season top Brit after a tough year. He has only two points more than Jack Clarke, and ten more than Will Bratt who probably would have been a championship challenger if he had been able to continue. Full championship listings will be found on this website in a few days’ time.

Practice report – India

F1
It was certainly an eventful first day for the Indian Grand Prix. There was a red flag in each session, plenty of off-track excursions by the drivers as they learned their way around, and a couple of grid penalties as well.
Session one was the most dramatic. Dusty and hazy, the first drivers on track were the Indians – Narain Karthikeyan and Karun Chandhok (replacing Heikki Kovalainen for the session) – and the two Force India drivers. The first flying lap was a 1:52.148 by Chandhok, but before he could really get going the session was red-flagged due to a dog on the circuit. That will have brought back memories for Bruno Senna, who was taken out of a GP2 race in Turkey in 2008 after he hit a dog.
Once the session resumed, things were rather quiet until the Hispanias began their work. Narain Karthikeyan moved into P1. But he was soon overtaken, and half-way through the session it was Jenson Button’s McLaren fastest with the Toro Rossos close behind. The times were tumbling for most, but not for Fernando Alonso whose car broke down as he was attempting his second timed lap. He pulled off on the escape road, so the session was not interrupted. He ended up sitting looking rather glum under the big screen.
The session continued with times falling. But it was still dusty in the pit lane, and as Karun Chandhok attempted to lay down some rubber the car spun rather dramatically and almost went too far into the path of Pastor Maldonado. The Venezuelan managed to avoid the accident, which allowed him to continue.
The Toro Rosso of Jaime Alguersuari crashed in the final minutes of the session, causing waved yellow flags. Then Pastor Maldonado had a firey mechanical failure. As marshalls cleared the cars and track, Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton set their fastest laps – Perez first then Hamilton right at the end to beat Sebastian Vettel. Both have been given 3-place grid penalties for qualifying tomorrow. Hamilton’s lap was the fastest of the session.

Practice two saw Pastor Maldonado crash, though Williams were able to get him out again. The story of the day was Ferrari’s flexible front wing. Especially for Felipe Massa, it was noticably scraping the ground. But it was clearly working for the team, as Massa set the fastest lap of the session. It is the first time he has topped a session since second practice in Silverstone. Fernando Alonso hit traffic as he was attempting to beat that time.
The red flag came mid-way through the session, when Jerome d’Ambrosio spun dramatically and hit the wall. Most drivers were getting used to the track, however, and apart from a spin for Petrov and a few off-track moments for Heikki Kovalainen and Sebastien Buemi, things went smoothly.

F2
A small field for a wet Barcelona. Spaniard Miki Monras was fastest in the first session, and German Tobias Hegewald was fastest in the second. Parthiva Sureshwaren set a top-ten time in FP2, perhaps inspired by the Grand Prix in his home country. Champion Mirko Bortolotti remained consistent, setting the second-fastest time in both sessions, but there is going to be an almighty scrap for second and third in the championship over the next two days.

Kvyat and King dominate the NEC

The final two Formula Renault NEC races of the season took place yesterday. In the first of Sunday’s races, Danny Kvyat dominated from pole, though he was challenged by his teammate Carlos Sainz (the series champion). Jordan King was also battling with the pair, and it must have been a great race to watch. King took up the third step on the podium.
In the final race, Jordan King battled his way up into the top three with Kvyat chasing – the first six drivers were reversed from the finish of race one. Stoffel Vandoorne tried hard but lost his pole position start, while Clemente Picariello had been running in third for the final laps before hitting the kerb as the clock ran down, relinquishing the position to Jordan King.
Incredibly, Kvyat and King have dominated this final round of the NEC, with the British driver picking up his third, fourth and fifth podiums of the season. Kvyat narrowed his gap to fourty points behind Sainz, and has finished second in the championship. King finished 11th having only competed in half the races.

Now to Formula One, and the race was dominated by Sebastian Vettel, though it came close at the end. Famously easy on his tyres, Jenson Button came close to the Red Bull driver at the end but the traffic prevented him from getting through.
There were four retirements from the race – Timo Glock took himself out on a wall in lap nine. Later, the two Mercedes drivers were battling with Perez and when the Sauber driver ran off the track, Rosberg got past. Schumacher was next to attempt to pass, but he ended up emulating Mark Webber’s accident in Valencia 2010. Though he didn’t fly, his accident was enough to cause a safety car. And Jarno Trulli was the second driver in the queue, having just been lapped by Vettel. The German was destined to get away, with second-placed Jenson fifth in the line.
It is clear that something needs to be done about the safety car proceedure in order to make it much more exciting when the car comes in. Watching as drivers try to untangle themselves ruins some of the excitement. If Jenson had been right behind Seb… who knows?
The third retirement was Jarno Trulli, whose gearbox blew up. It had been on the edge, but Lotus decided to run it anyway to avoid a penalty. It lasted until close to the end of the race, so it was a good risk. Finally, Jaime Alguersuari took himself out in the final few laps, too close to the end to call a safety car, so he was a classified non-finisher.
Of course, the accidents can’t tell the whole story of the race, and there was a big battle between Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. They may have been championship rivals in 2008, but these guys are not getting on well this season. Hamilton was trying to overtake the Ferrari when he hit the Brazilian’s tyre with his front wing. The wing was damaged and the tyre punctured. This was – typically for Massa – right after they had pitted. Massa has had a lot of bad luck with his tyres getting damaged right after a pit stop.
The Brazilian was not happy, and only climbed back into ninth at the end, while Lewis – who was behind Massa after his drive-through – came back to fifth.
With Alonso finishing fourth and Button finishing second, Vettel hasn’t won the championship just yet. But as he only needs to score a single point – or either Alonso or Button to not win all the remaining races – to secure the championship, it is pretty-much in the bag.

Next weekend: Formula Renault UK action at Brands Hatch, Formula Two action at Monza.

Friday practice summary

Well, what can I say? Today was very exciting! Ten minutes before FP1 was supposed to begin, the race director announced that it would be delayed by 30 minutes due to the need to repair some kerbs that the support races had damaged. This was in multiple sections of the track, and there was also a water leak at turn 14. Kerbs were removed, and the cars permitted to cross the white lines.
Thirty minutes late, the shortened sixty-minute session got underway. It began fairly calmly, before Webber got stuck behind Glock for several laps. Instead of holding back to gain more space, he tried to overtake the Virgin on the final corner. But Glock turned in without seeing the Red Bull – he had no reason to expect him to be there – and Webber’s front wing caught on Glock’s tyre. This resulted in a puncture and a broken front wing.
A few minutes after that, Heikki Kovalainen was suffering from mechanical issues so had to pull up in a run-off area. But his front brake ducts overheated as he stopped, setting both front tyres alight. Red flags went out, giving teams even less running time in the session.
Things got going again, until Felipe Massa ran over some of the repaired kerbing. It hadn’t been repaired very well, and the Ferrari pulled it loose. The session was again red-flagged, and there were about three minutes of running left at the end for one flying lap.
The fastest driver was Lewis Hamilton, with Sebastian Vettel 0.4s lower. Third was Mark Webber, a second off his teammate’s pace, and fourth Alonso.

Practice two was the full 90 minutes, and there were thankfully no red flags. The kerbing had been removed from the apex of Turn 13, however, which allowed the cars to cut it close to the wall there and on the track they turned into.
A lot of drivers came millimetres from the wall, a few touched it lightly, and Sebastien Buemi managed to knock his wheel completely off, held on merely by the tethers. Fortunately he only caused a yellow flag, but his session was over. His teammate also suffered mechanical issues and missed half the session, which is not good for Toro Rosso.
Jenson Button was another driver to have problems, when his McLaren’s wheels locked as he was going around a corner. He went straight on instead, but was unable to get reverse gear. The front of his car started smoking and he quickly got out to head back to the paddock. Incredibly, once you leave the circuit you find yourself in the middle of a normal, active city, and it was strange to see the McLaren driver motorbiking through the people.
Maldonado, Sutil and other drivers sometimes found themselves in run-off areas, but they managed to spin around and get back on track. Paul di Resta had mechanical issues as well and only set eight laps.
Fastest was Vettel, with Alonso 0.2s slower. Hamilton was just ahead of Massa, both around 0.7s slower.

So it was definitely an interesting day at the Singapore Grand Prix circuit. This bodes well for qualifying tomorrow, and the race on Sunday.