Summer day 22 – Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa – 6
One of the most popular drivers on the grid, Felipe Massa has just missed out on two world championships and cheated death in his career. Returning in 2010, his season began with a lot of potential. But since then, Fernando Alonso has pushed his way into the team’s top driver slot and left Felipe hanging. Only once has the Brazilian beaten his teammate in qualifying this season – an event which occurred at the Hungarian Grand Prix.
At the start of the year, Felipe was able to beat Fernando in the Malaysian and Chinese Grands Prix, each time finishing one place ahead, but since then he’s been struggling. In Turkey, he finished 11th compared to third for Alonso taking his first podium of the season. He then retired from the next two races – a gearbox problem in Spain, and taken out by Lewis Hamilton in Monaco. Canada was a good race though, and he led for one lap, sitting in third at the red flag. He spent most of that race battling with Kamui Kobayashi, and in a photo finish just pipped the Japanese driver on the line.
Since Canada, he has had three fifth-place finishes and came sixth in Hungary. He also took the fastest lap there, just as he did in Australia. He has never failed to qualify in the top ten, and his best qualifying came in Canada. Whether Felipe will be able to beat Alonso again in qualifying is an interesting question, but hopefully he will get a boost from having done so in Hungary.

Points: 70
Worst qualifying: 10
Best qualifying: 3
Worst finish: 11 (Turkey)
Best finish: 5 (Malaysia, Valencia, Britain, Germany)
Average difference: -3
Laps completed: 627/681 (92%)
Average race position: 5.98 (Best: 3.9 China; Worst: 8.5 Turkey)

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Another pole for Vettel *yawn*

Nobody knows how he does it, but Sebastian Vettel has taken his sixth pole of 2011. With Webber having taken the other one, this makes it 7/7 for Red Bull. But the front row for once was not taken up by a McLaren or the other Red Bull. For the first time this year, a Ferrari qualifies second. Is McLaren’s dominance fading, or have Ferrari just got a better car for the track? In fact, this is the first time any Ferrari has been in the top three for the start of a race, and both drivers made it there. For both Alonso and Massa it’s their best qualifying of 2011.
Now that Trulli has finally outqualified Kovalainen, Alonso is the only driver to have outqualified his teammate in every race so far. It was a close thing, however, with Massa topping Q2 and coming very close in Q3. Yep, Felipe’s still got it. It seems every race weekend there are doubts about Massa. Today, none.
Jerome d’Ambrosio failed to qualify within the 107% but was allowed to race because he was still getting used to his new chassis following his crash in practice two yesterday. Tonio Liuzzi outqualified both Virgins and his teammate, but was still more than 1.5s off Kovalainen’s time. Alguersuari was the other man to go out in Q1 – his second in two races. He only beat Buemi in the interrupted qualifying in China.

So Alonso, Button, Hamilton, Massa, Petrov, Rosberg and Vettel all continue to start in the top 10 for every race this season (though Petrov failed to get into Q3 in Monaco he started 10th because of Perez’s accident). Vettel’s average qualifying position is 1.14, while nobody else can go better than 4th – Hamilton’s average.
Excluding Webber’s dodgy qualifying in China, today is his worst of the season: he’s always been in the top three otherwise. It’s also Kovalainen’s worst, as he’s usually P19 with Trulli P20.
Rain may well come tomorrow. If so, we could see a very interesting race indeed. Even without the rain, the Red Bulls have not been as strong in practice and may struggle on the track with their lower straight line speed. Could we see our first Ferrari victory? We shall see. Don’t count Vettel out just yet.

Eleven to watch – China 2011

So how did the ‘eleven’ do? For most of them it was a good week, with six finishing in the points and six finishing ahead of their teammate. A few were not so lucky…

11 – Pastor Maldonado Qualifying 17th, the rookie Williams driver really had the worst race of anyone. Though it’s the first time he’s finished a race this season, he finished behind a Lotus and only spent 13 laps ahead of Kovalainen. Considering this is the guy who won GP2 last season with a record 11 wins, he’s not exactly showing it this season. I’d say ‘bring back Nico Hulkenberg’, but the Hulk wouldn’t want to go back.

10 – Jaime Alguersuari An unlucky race after qualifying 7th, the Toro Rosso driver was ahead of his teammate until his pit stop and subsequent loss of tyre. It wasn’t his fault, and hopefully Toro Rosso will look kindly on his performance after a competitive weekend.

9 – Jarno Trulli Not finishing in the points, and well behind his teammate, puts Jarno Trulli down in 9th. He didn’t have a spectacular race, and despite a good pace in the final laps failed to catch up to Maldonado. By the way – he set a faster fastest lap than Alonso. The Lotus has great pace when the tyres are working.

8 – Vitaly Petrov The unlucky Russian finished in the points, but it was a mediocre race. Considering Renault have been on the podium in Australia and Malaysia, 9th is a disappointment. He will be happy to be ahead of Nick Heidfeld in the points.

7 – Paul di Resta An okay race, but Kobayashi beat him out of the points in the final laps. Much better than his teammate, however, and showing great promise.

6 – Jerome D’Ambrosio It was a great weekend for the Belgian, who fought well and beat his teammate in qualifying and the race. It’s a shame he’s not driving a better car. For me, he’s the rookie of the race.

5 – Michael Schumacher Unfortunately, he was overtaken by Fernando Alonso. He also finished behind his teammate. But a solid points finish to help Mercedes up to fifth place ahead of Sauber after a rough start to the season.

4 – Kamui Kobayashi A great overtake on di Resta gave him tenth place and another point for Sauber. He’s really showing that he can hold the team together, and getting the most out of the car.

3 – Felipe Massa For some people, beating Fernando Alonso is a must, and Massa did it in style. He had an absolutely brilliant start to the race, and was only hindered by the tyres going. He finished sixth, which is the same position he qualified in and also where he was for every practice session. But he’s shown the doubters that he can compete against Alonso without pit lane or accident troubles and win.

2 – Mark Webber What a drive, and a great call on the hard tyres to start the race. With three sets of softs and a fast car, he was guaranteed to do well. One more lap and he could have taken on his teammate for second. Brilliant!

1 – Lewis Hamilton For knocking Vettel down to second, and winning McLaren’s first race of the season, he deserves top spot. After making it out of the pit lane with 25 seconds to spare according to the BBC’s countdown clock, his race was set. Not having to drive up from 24th, he was able to run a three-stop strategy to perfection and has made a complete turnaround since the dismal Malaysia performance.

Barcelona day 4 2011

It’s been a tough few weeks for Lotus, who have struggled to get in the laps at Valencia (power steering problems), Jerez and Barcelona (water leaks, and now a damaged and faulty car). At each test, they have done fewer kilometres than any of the other teams who have been running their 2011 car, and even HRT’s 2010 car has gone further. Reliability-wise, this is a problem, though the car has shown good pace when it has been working. Today’s running was cut short by a fault that caused Trulli to crash, though he was unhurt. Including the filming day in Jerez, they have done over 2400km. That’s okay, but less than half of Ferrari’s distance; the Italians have the most reliable car, though it has not always been the fastest.
Amongst the midrunners, Toro Rosso and Sauber – both struggling for points in 2010 – have shown good speed at all of the tests so far, but particularly Toro Rosso for whom this is their first completely self-made car, since they can’t just get a chassis off the Red Bull team any more.

Due to the cancellation/postponement of the Bahrain Grand Prix by the Crown Prince, the tests will also not be held there. The location and dates of the next test are thus TBC.

Apart from that, Massa went fastest with a 1:22.625 and Buemi’s Toro Rosso was third-fastest just behind Webber’s Red Bull. After Schumacher went off right at the end, D’Ambrosio’s Virgin went faster than him to go ninth fastest. I’ll be back with test coverage whenever the test goes ahead. Meanwhile, revise your countdown clocks: 32 days to Australian GP.