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China GP up close – Massa's missed chance
Posted By:   |  19 Apr 2009   |  4:03 pm GMT  |  26 comments

Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali started the weekend by sending an email to his team asking them to react to the poor start to the season “with pride”.

The team came away from Shanghai empty handed again and now only they and Force India are left without a point. It could have been worse, if Adrian Sutil had held on to his sixth place, but the German driver crashed heavily five laps from the end.

However Domenicali was able to draw some pride from the way the early part of the race unfolded. In his post race briefing he was encouraged by the performance of Felipe Massa in the early part of the race. Massa got as high as third place on lap 20 before an electrical problem forced him to stop out on track. He said that water had got into his electrics and he lost the throttle.

Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa


For every success story in F1 there is always a story of what might have been and given Ferrari’s position in the table, this ‘what might have been’ tale will be particularly painful.

“It is very unfortunate because if you look at the first part of the race, Felipe did a fantastic job, ” said Domenicali. “He was really much faster than Sebastian Vettel, who was with low fuel and we had more fuel. So, honestly, in that condition it was perfect. Then unfortunately we had this problem on electronic control which made the car stop, as it was a big shame.

I am pretty sure that with that strategy, and the fact that he did fantastic laps, we would have been on the podium – no doubt.”

I’m not sure he was ever faster than Vettel, but he was certainly at times competitive with Jenson Button, who finished on the podium.

He started the race from 13th place on the grid with a one stop fuel load. His car had around 80 kilos of fuel in it, some 46 kilos more than Vettel, which equates to around 1.6 second per lap extra.

In the opening stint he drove very well, passing Kovalainen on lap 9, Raikkonen on lap 12, Trulli on lap 14, moving to fourth when Buemi pitted on lap 19 and third when Webber pitted on lap 20. At that point Felipe still had a lot of fuel on board. The safety car was out and he was right behind Jenson Button, who finished on the podium and both drivers had one more stop to make. His pace out of the slipstream of other cars was similar to Button’s so you can see what Domenicali means when he says that a podium was within his sights. He had certainly played himself into a position to beat Barrichello.

“It’s a very tough situation, “said Massa afterwards. “We are in a different position from the past but I think we can get away from this problem I’m very motivated to help the team to get away from this difficult time.

“We have two issues, we need to make the car quicker and we need to make it reliable. I feel more comfortable in Bahrain and I think we can be more competitive there and more reliable.”

Ferrari tested for a week in Bahrain in February. They put that knowledge to good use last year, let’s hope they can again this year.

Kimi Raikkonen finished 10th, despite running in front of Lewis Hamilton in the first stint. He switched from a two stop to a one stop strategy, but the timing was all wrong. His problem was that his pit stop came at a time when the field was bunched up shortly after a safety car period. He dropped right down the field and never recovered the positions.

Kimi believes that the team will start to move forward when it gets its new diffuser and floor at the Spanish Grand Prix in May.
“We know that once we get to Barcelona we should take a step with the car. We probably don’t have the same downforce as the others. When we get the new floor for sure we are going to get lots of downforce and it will make the car fast.”

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26 Comments
  1. Is the fuel penalty really the same in the wet? I ask, because the Red Bull and Brawn lap times continued to improve after they pitted later in the race – or was that just the effect of new tyres and improving circuit conditions?

  2. Lee Gilbert says:

    Did I watch a differenty race?

    You’re right James, this is a PAINFUL tale

    Does this comment from Domenicali hold any water: “He was really much faster than Sebastian Vettel, who was with low fuel and we had more fuel”

    The race I saw did not show Massa anywhere NEAR the performance needed to match Vettel

    I then love his next contradictory line: “I’m not sure he was ever faster than Vettel, but he was certainly at times competitive with Jenson Button, who finished on the podium.”

    Massa did go up the field at one point when the usual Pitstop mayhem started but after he had pitted he would not have been anywhere near Button – he may have been in front of Kimi but not much more than that.

    I think this is just Domenicali trying to kid the PR process to hide a dire Ferrari – not for nearly 30 years have Ferrari been this bad and we can all say “what if, what if” but the simple facts remain that in quali and in the race the Ferrari has been awful all season

  3. AMS says:

    Three races and ZERO points… Mr Allen, I would love to read an analysis about the situation at Ferrari… During winter testing they looked pretty good, now they are nowhere.

  4. Darren Fellows says:

    Hmmm Electrical Problem?

    It looked and sounded like he had lost the gears (He was going down the gears looking to find one) I feel bad for Massa and Raikonen as they have no hope at the moment but on the flip side, this is exactly what the Rule shake up is for :)

    Turning into an interesting season, Roll on next weekend :)

  5. Peter says:

    Too many what if, too many wrong decisions. Ferrari needs a strong manager and have Dominicali as his assistant, he is a great guy but not strong enough at leading the team. I wished Kimi was on the top again this year, I think he had worked hard during the winter and was motivated, but now it will be difficult to race for him without the chance for the championship. They need a very steap development curve or start working on 2010.

  6. Don says:

    Hi James,

    I read with great interest your insight into Ferrari’s woo’s… I agree with much of what you say – although one crucial element is missing to the first 3 races of Ferrari’s defence of its constructors championsip… that element is LUCK.

    Over a decade ago, at the dawn of their Golden Age – Ferrari had Michael Schumacher, Ross Brawn & Jean Todt. This magical trio had an abudance of positive thinking, natural talent and oozed self confidence and some how managed to have Lady Luck hovering over the entire Ferrari operation.

    When this Golden Era ended with Schumacher, Jean Todt & Ross Brawn all leaving Ferrari F1, it took a while for their ‘Midas Touch’ to fizzle out from the Ferrari team.

    I’m amazed they somehow won the Constructors Championship last year – the reliablity of the Ferrari’s was dreadful last year… the last of their luck finally fizzled out by the end of 2008.

    Now in 2009 a rudderless Ferrari has emerged – reliablity is worse then ever, top level mangement is trying to cope without Brawn & Todt at the helm, and both drivers seem a bit shell shocked by the poor car they have been given to drive. All of this plus an ambush by mid-level teams like Brawn Racing and Red Bull – Ferrari can’t handle so many unknowns at once.

    Today I watched with dismay as Raikkonen got over taken by a Force India car – I’ve nothing against Force India they have a great car and Adrian Sutil did a great job – but Enzo Ferrari must have been weeping in heavan today!

    Watching the race today reminded me of watching Ferrari races in the early 1990′s; when Jean Alesi tried desperately to score points in a Ferrari.

    Ferrari need a guiding light – they need another magical trio to inspire them.

  7. ozzy says:

    i think ferrari have improved a lot compared to malesia… in malesia they sent kimi out on full wets while truck was still dry… so they could have started in china on slick tyres… at least they chose to go for wet tyres… it does sound to me an improvement.. bit by bit, they will get there :)

  8. M__E says:

    “We have two issues, we need to make the car quicker and we need to make it reliable…”
    :lol: so thats about 1 million issues then, if you dont have speed and you dont have reliability what do you have exactly…just hope!

    I feel more comfortable in Bahrain and I think we can be more competitive there and more reliable.”

    I would make the point that the reason for this is that Bahrain “is like an airport” – to quote…webber?
    and so less for massa to stress about and psyche himself out, which is why Im pretty sure why he usually flies there…No walls! :mrgreen:

    but judging by today in the wet (and last years title chase) he has come of age and the head is working well finally..
    as for Button judging by the Press conference, sounds like he psyched himself out by the rain today..listen to the contrast is psychology between Vettel and Button today, you can see why Vettel killed him!

  9. MangoMan says:

    At least Ferrari have now overtaken Force India and moved up to 9th in the Constructors’ Championship ;-)

  10. alex says:

    “In the opening stint he drove very well, passing Kovalainen on lap 9, Raikkonen on lap 12, Trulli on lap 14, moving to fourth when Buemi pitted on lap 19 and third when Webber pitted on lap 20″

    Did you see any of that? I thought the tv coverage was shocking. They missed so much action. Really unprofessional. Why can FiA not request that tv directors attend some sort of F1 course so they learn how to broadcast the thing?

  11. no point for Ferrari in three races. Ferrari should improve their performance immediately, if not, maybe they should focus on next year F1 races.

  12. alex says:

    Thanks James, I did not know that.
    So are the differences due to the rest of the team (cameramen etc) because maybe I am wrong, but I get the impression that when we get to Europe, where perhaps you have more experienced teams, you rarely miss a live overtaking manouvre.
    I suspect you can have a very experienced director, but if the cameramen out there are not giving him the images to select, there is not so much he can do, right?

    Or does Bernie provide a complete team that does every race?

    Would be nice to know what you think about it. Maybe a team of tv specialist would be the way to go in the future. The same people do all the races, in a while it shoild become a well oiled machine.

  13. Mark R says:

    Hi James,
    Do you think Ferrari would have to wait until Barcelona anyway before they fit the new diffuser because they’ve got to modify the gearbox casing which I assume would be classed as a gearbox change of course meaning a 5 place grid penalty?
    I’ve also got the impression that this may now open the flood gates to very much against the “spirit of the rules” & close to the limit designs particually on the aero. The aero designs that will likely follow are where you would expect Ferrari to be normally very at strong but also teams like Mclaren & Renault. Quadruple deck diffusers anyone?

    Keep up the good work & hope your back on TV soon.

  14. Tevin says:

    Can I be AWFUL and ask a question of JA? Is Ferrari’s form this year because the place is solely being run by the Italians now? I don’t mean to be rude but they’ve always seemed to operate at a higher level when very smart ‘foreigners’ are in charge. Is this a thing or am I being dreadful?

  15. Andrew Hepburk says:

    Dear james,

    if you were a team boss, would want Massa in your team??

  16. Lee Gilbert says:

    This is due to the latest generation Bridgestone full wet tyres. They have a limited life span and as the tread wears their effectiveness to move water and provide grip wears with it. With some new tyres near the end of the GP both Brawn and Red Bul were always going to be quicker. Though it appears the wet weather tyres are much better on the Red Bull than any other car. The Brawn in the wet is excellent but not as good as the Red Bull. In the dry the Brawn still has the edge over the red Bull though.

  17. rpaco says:

    There has to be an optimum extra fuel mass for wet conditions. Increased weight makes better contact by the tyres with the track, (displacing the water) but conversely also increases inertia and momentum.
    Had Brawn done any wet testing and tried out any wet setups at all maybe the results would have been different. If Brawn supposedly has more downforce they should have been better in the wet than Red Bull.

    Having now seen several different rear ends I am sure that like some of us technically bent folks, the aero guys are all thinking about how to re-design their rear wings etc. Not just the diffuser but the whole rear wing and support assy. Extending the side panels backwards, taking them down to meet the diffuser, using the centre fin full height back and through the rear wing, using the lower wing (which I thought was illegal but is there nonetheless on more than one car)
    Dunno why but it just seems there are obvious things they can copy from one another.

    Stefano and Flav eh? non va, molto bene ha ha ha. My Alfa had problems with rain too, much like the Ferraris it would not go round bends and the electrics shorted out.

    Come on Flav what are you going to do to keep us entertained
    during the next week? Maybe you should see Eddie Jordan about some concrete blocks :-)

  18. James Allen says:

    It’s very hard. Ferrari has been spectacularly successful in the last 10 years and it was based on a great team being assembled a led by core of people who moved on. They knew they would be hard to replace and so they put a succession plan in place years before the group broke up. The team is still mostly the same, but the problems Ferrari has today, like many other teams, just makes you realise how unique a group of people that was. But I have great faith in Domenicali, he just needs his lieutenants to step up a bit.

  19. Don says:

    MangoMan – I was all excited when you said Ferrari were moved up to 9th in the Constructors’ Champhionship… I had hoped maybe the results were changed around overnight… no such luck… well at least saying they share 9th place with Force India doesn’t sound so bad! :) lol

  20. James Allen says:

    To be fair, yes you did see quite a bit of Massa early on. As for the TV coverage, the same director (who works for Bernie Ecclestone) does almost all the races and has done for a few years now. I know him well, he’s very experienced and tries incredibly hard to improve the show all the time. F1 is very tough to direct because there are so many different points of focus, unlike football, where you basically follow the ball. On days like Sunday, it’s really hard to tell the story.

  21. MangoMan says:

    No, it’s true: Rejoice!! Strictly speaking, they really are 9th and Force India is 10th. Each of them already had one P9, but Kimi’s P10 from China is better than Force India’s next best result, Fisi’s P11 in Oz.

  22. Patrickl says:

    They have to go out on full wets when the start is behind the safety car. Otherwise maybe they would have gone for slicks ;)

  23. Nik Black says:

    Bahrain will be the real test for Ferrari – it is a track that has typically suited their cars and it is Massa’s favorite circuit. If they come away from Bahrain with zero points again, then they will need to make a big re-assessment of everything from top to bottom.

    Before Australia, Ferrari seemed to be a top 4 team at least. And with 40M pounds worth of driving talent, one would think that they would be able to consistently take points while the car was re-developed (in the same way Hamilton has).

    Instead of that we have mass confusion and no clear leadership. The problems with KERS and race strategy (Kimmi on wets etc.) are costing them a lot and seem more to do with leadership rather than technical ability.

    Massa retiring and Kimmi struggling with the car are not positive signs for the future of Ferrari. With new rules in F1 this year, there is still a lot more improvement to be made in all the cars, so its not worth looking at 2010 just yet. There is probably another 2-3% to be gained during this season. The old team would easily make that up, the question is if the new team are able to.

  24. James Allen says:

    Good question, don’t know, but I’ll find out.

  25. M__E says:

    interesting theory, but I think they are probably introducing the ‘b’ spec car at Barcelona, as this is traditionally where the major seasons upgrades are bolted onto the car…er..or just bringing the whole new B spec car period!

    The reason being that its alot more difficult to develop the car during the first section of the season from Aus – Bahrain
    and so the first stop back in the european circuit is Barcelona so most major upgrades happen there so they can catch up the field in the development race. In other words Im sure its a co-incidence they are waiting till Barc, because of being in sinc with the gearbox changes and avoiding a 5 place penalty. But James is the man with the inside info, it would be nice to know the official reason from the horses mouth ;-)

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