Felipe Massa has been talking to the press at Wrooom, Ferrari’s annual ski event at Madonna di Campaglia. The Brazilian drivers’ career is on an upward curve having finished the second half of the season strongly after a miserable first half that brought on strong rumours about his replacement.
Indeed if Fernando’s good friend Mark Webber had been willing to make the move across from Red Bull he wouldn’t have been in the Dolomite ski resort at all this January.
One of the things that Felipe is keen to emphasize is that his performances in the second half of the season were not due to a sudden ‘Eureka!’ moment when he worked out how to handle a difficult car, but in his mental approach to racing.
The first half of his season results looked like this:
Ret 15 13 9 15 6 10 16 4 12
The second half of his season results looked like this:
9 5 4 8 2 4 6 7 4 3
Given those results over the first ten races and also given the fact that over the same ten races Fernando Alonso won three races and collected three podiums, it’s not surprising Felipe came under pressure.
Helped enormously by his partnership with engineer Rob Smedley, Felipe found belief in his driving style again, as he revealed at Wrooom. “I just got better inside my brain. It was a big change. It was about understanding that I could do it, even if 90 percent of the people did not think I could. It was about believing in myself and not having a good day and a bad day. I know that I can be a Champion. That I can win races. I have changed my way of thinking and I am stronger and stronger.”
Presumably Felipe has been to a sports psychologist (not that his engineer isn’t one!) who has showed him how close to being a World Champion he actually was. In fact, you could say that the half point with which Niki Lauda won a World Championship wasn’t as close as the margin between Hamilton and Massa in 2008.
Confidence is a wonderful thing. But listening to Felipe’s comments at Wrooom you have to wonder if the psychologiest hasn’t made him too confident.
“I want to return to winning,” he said. “I want to be competitive from the start and to be fighting for the Championship. I can’t imagine a team not wanting two competitive drivers. We are fighting for two titles and I am sure the team will help me if it turns out that my situation was the same as the one that meant Fernando was a contender these past years.”
“I remember when Kimi was my team-mate and how much we helped one another from one season to the next. It’s the same with Fernando, it’s team work… In Australia we start over from zero and it will all depend on my ability and on the way the Championship pans out. I hope to get off to the best possible start and my aim is always to carry the Brazilian flag onto the highest step of the podium.”
It’s amazing fighting talk from a driver who in boxing parlance was on the ropes and likely to get a standing count in the middle of 2012. But the reality is that Fernando is the No.1 driver, the best driver in F1 (as voted by the team bosses at the end of last year) and the man whose never-say-die attitude is legend. Now the thought occurs that they both have the same sports psychologist working for them and that having set Fernando to become the Terminator of F1 drivers, a man who never gives up until the mission is accomplished, he/she has been co-opted to help Felipe’s career get back on the rails.
But even if Fernando were 60 points behind Felipe at the season halfway point it’s hard to see Stefano Domenicali saying, ‘you know what lads, this season we’re going to give Felipe a shot at it, let’s break open Fernando’s gearbox seal…’
The reality check for Felipe is that Ferrari are set up to make Fernando a winner and it would only be the mathematics of the points table that ever handed Felipe the opportunity. Given that it’s unlikely for Fernando to be more than 75 points behind Felipe with three races to go, then Massa is not going to feel the warmth of Maranello backing till very late in the season when it becomes impossible for Fernando to win.
With the regulations hardly changed for 2013, pundits are predicting that the championship race will be closer than 2012. With Red Bull, McLaren and Mercedes unwilling to play the team orders game till the drivers’ title becomes a lost cause then Ferrari have a clear advantage they can use. The Scuderia are less willing to see their drivers take points off each other and can intervene earlier. And they’re unlikely to intervene earlier for Massa when Alonso is such an unshakeable force in the car.
Confidence is an intangible thing. It can be shattered in moments and only restored after time. If you bet on F1 then your money is more likely to be on the guy whose 2012 season record was :
5 1 9 7 2 3 5 1 2 1 5 Ret 3 3 Ret 3 2 2 3 2
Ret 15 13 9 15 6 10 16 4 12 9 5 4 8 2 4 6 7 4 3
Indeed if you want the odds on a Fernando title win in 2013, Paddy Power are giving it at 11/4 whereas Felipe is at 40/1.
Perhaps the last words should be left to Fernando Alonso, also speaking at the Wrooom Event: “Felipe is one of the best drivers in the world as we saw at the end of 2012,” Fernando explained. “I have been saying that for three years. There has been a big gap in terms of points, but I expect him to be much closer.”
But significantly, not in front.