Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Driver File: Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa came into Formula One in 2002 as a raw talent that caught the eye of team principal Peter Sauber. Sauber has always evaluated talent well, Massa is no exception. In his very test for Sauber, then test team manager Jacky Eeckelaert commented, "the boy is very fast." Nevertheless, after securing a seat at Sauber, Massa developed a reputation of being very quick but a crasher. This may have been a result of his self-proclaimed aggressive style. "I would rather make some mistake than not try." However, it was rather prophetic that technical director William Rampf professed, On a quick lap, Felipe is quicker than Kimi," said Rampf. "He is very talented and can go for a quick lap without any problem. We compared the first tests of Felipe and Kimi, and they are very similar. In terms of feedback they are also the same." It is interesting to see the results that Raikkonen and Massa have racked up in their Ferrari careers. Although he surely demonstrated the speed in 2002, this style is what probably got him dumped and rideless leaving him the option to test driver for Ferrari in 2003, which in reality is probably was not all that bad, given that you test for a world championship team and partner a legend in Michael Schumacher.

Massa gained valuable experience testing at Ferrari particularly on understanding the technical side of F1. He remarked of his time there "I have learnt and am learning a lot," he said. "For me, Ferrari is proving to be an incredible school. Working with Michael (Schumacher), Rubens (Barrichello) and Luca (Badoer, his fellow tester) is like going to university. The experience I am acquiring this year is very important, especially as I go to all the races and attend all the meetings. The more time I spend with the team the better it is for me."

After Massa's schooling at Ferrari in 2003, he returned to Sauber in 2004 and 2005. He performed well against his more senior teammates, then highly-rated Giancarlo Fisichella (2004) and former F1 World Champion, Jacques Villeneuve. Then in 2006 he got the opportunity to drive for Ferrari in a race capacity. He supported Michael Schumacher in his bid for another world title but one can see that Massa had the raw speed to challenge Schumacher. He claimed 3 poles and 2 victories which included his maiden win from pole in Turkey. He finished 3rd in the title chase in 2006.

In 2007, Massa was the unknown soldier in the epic battle that occurred between McLaren, Ferrari, Raikkonen, Hamilton and Alonso but amassed 6 poles and 3 wins nonetheless. As time progressed Massa has reconfirmed the words of Rampf and Eeckelaert all those years ago. He has collected poles (13), race wins (10) and fast laps (9) in his 48 race Ferrari career. Granted he is in top equipment but a 21% win percentage is pretty good.

In 2008, it appears he has fully learned to harness his aggressive style and has made it effective in an era where consistency and reliability reign supreme. He has made a remarkable comeback after scoring zero points in the first two races in less than impressive fashion. There were even rumors that Massa was set to be replaced. He erased an 11 deficit to World Champion teammate Raikkonen and turned into a 17 point advantage. Massa has placed himself in prime position to attack for a world championship against Lewis Hamilton and has erased a 14 point margin after the first 2 races to 2 points with 5 races to go. If Massa can pull it off, he would be the first Brazilian Formula One Champion since the late great Ayrton Senna in 1991.

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