Sunday, December 20, 2009

What can we expect from Massa?

It is clear after the past several years that Felipe Massa is a much beloved member of the Ferrari family and the past two seasons seemed to be the defacto team leader. In late July of 2009 he suffered a potential life threatening accident during qualifying for the Hungarian GP when he was struck on the head by a spring. It was a bleak situation; but as time passed we witnessed a recovery that seemed nothing short of a miracle. Now that the accident is something in Massa's past we can talk about his on-track performance and ask the next logical question: what can be reasonable expected from Felipe Massa in 2010.

This past week, Massa completed a 2 day test at Mugello in which he drove a Ferrari F2007 with demonstration run tires. He had previously been in a F1 car in October and November driving respectively a F2007 and a F60; but this recent test was where he could really put himself through a reasonable simulation. Other than a sore neck, Massa was satisfied. He stated, "I had a perfect feeling, which gives me hope for the upcoming season. I was very quick immediately and nothing seems to have changed in my driving style compared to before the accident."

However, we also must consider the psychological effects. Massa says he remembers nothing of his accident which might be helpful in not having to relive the trauma. When long time F1 veteran, Rubens Barrichello had a savage accident during the tragic weekend of Imola 1994, years later he discussed not remembering the impact. In his words, not remembering made him lucky. Still for Massa, the question still lingers until he get around other cars.

I have always had great admiration for Massa since he entered F1 and if this little test and lack of memory of the crash is an indication of anything, he may return with no ill-effects. Nevertheless, the realities for him are he's coming off a life threatening injury, has not driven a F1 car with any regularity, and will be going against a driver in Fernando Alonso that will be motivated to prove a point that he is the best driver in F1 and says he has never driven better. For Massa to be on pace from day one and throughout the season against Alonso will be very difficult and I think unlikely. Moreover, with Ferrari gushing about Alonso's leadership and car development skills, Ferrari will be looking towards Alonso to push the team.

Still, it is not impossible as we have seen comebacks before. 2 time Champion and former McLaren driver Mika Hakkinen returned to F1 after having a near-fatal accident in the last race of 1995. He returned in 1996 with little problem and later went on to titles in 1998 and 99. Also, it was not that long ago that there was plenty of talk Massa should be replaced as his performance was not up to standard. It seems silly now that was even a discussion. We are not going to get any real marker on Massa's progress until they start testing early next year but it seems that he is off to a solid start; and even thought I think Alonso will outperform Massa in 2010, do not count this guy out.

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