When it was announced that Felipe Massa would be driving for Ferrari, I publically stated that I didn’t think much of the Brazilian driver, and even suggested that the decision to replace Rubens Barrichello with Felipe was an act of desperation on the Italian teams part. Since that announcement was made, Felipe has raced for a complete season with the Scuderia, partnered with Michael Schumacher and now to be teamed with Finnish driver Kimi Raikkonen. In Massa’s first year with Ferrari, the Brazilian managed two victories, a string of podiums and a nice tally of points. In fact, the young charger finished 2006 with 80 points which placed him third in the championship.
So is Massa really any good, or is the car simply carrying him?
The reason I ask now is because Ferrari are venturing into a new era. Their golden child Michael Schumacher has retired from racing, and key personnel have been shifted around. For sure, 2007 is going to be a tough year for the team simply because of all the changes that have occurred, but the car appears to be on form and winter testing has gone relatively well for them. Felipe has just topped the timing sheets in Bahrain for three successive days and has quite clearly underlined the cars potential for this upcoming season. And as I typed up the final Bahrain post earlier, I started to think that Massa may have what it takes, the potential, to become a World Champion.
It was this thought that led me to recall my previous judgement of the Brazilian driver, and possible even think about revising it – Felipe Massa is starting to look like a potential World Champion. With his new team mate, Felipe has been seen to be jovial and social at the circuits, and he has stated that himself and Kimi get along okay. But Massa’s recent superb ontrack performance almost gives the impression he is stamping his authority on either Kimi or the team. It was Felipe that went fastest, not Raikkonen. In fact, aside from his very first run, Kimi hasn’t been in the press much and although he hasn’t avoided the cameras, he hasn’t attracted them.
This kind of behaviour from Felipe is reminiscent of drivers of an era past, where often if both team mates were testing together, one would always ensure to pop in a quick lap just prior to the end of the day simply move up on the timing sheets – it is a mind game, and Formula One drivers occasionally like to play. I get the impression that Felipe is playing a little, but he is also marking himself out as the ‘Schumacher replacement’. While the media were playing to Kimi late last year as the ‘replacement’, I feel that it is Massa who is trying to gain the coverted crown.
So Massa is playing his cards well, but does he really have the potential to win big? Well, drivers have often said that they thought Felipe was a fast driver. Even when he was poodling around in a Sauber, people in the know have offered praise to Massa. Unfortunately, the statements were often followed with a “…but he throws off the track too often.” And this was the real crux of Felipe’s problem. Ferrari suffered this in the first part of 2006 when Massa threw the red car around a fair amount, but Massa soon found a groove and settled down. The maiden win came in Turkey and then the storming drive in Brazil in front of his home crowd left many a fans jaw on the deck – it was a superb drive to victory.
So as Massa enters his first season without the guiding hand of the ‘Schumacher team’, he will have to assume a more dominant mantle in the Scuderia. As testing showed though, this task doesn’t seem to daunt the diminutive driver, and I think I’m going to eat some humble pie and revise my initial statement made 18 months ago: Felipe probably has the ability to it, but he needs to start well, dominate Raikkonen and keep it on the black stuff.
Is my revisied statement a more accurate reflection of Felipe’s abilities, or should I stick to the original? Have your say in the comments…