Ferrari is readying a new chassis for Felipe Massa to use in this weekend’s Malaysian Grand Prix in order to rule out the possibility of anything “unusual” happening with his F2012 in wake of his torrid start to the season in Melbourne.
The Brazilian struggled throughout the three days at Albert Park for grip and balance, qualifying 16th and then suffering from severe tyre degradation in the race which eventually came to a miserable end following a collision with Bruno Senna. In the post-race media briefings Stefano Domenicali said the team would “need to stay close to Felipe because it’s clear that he’s under pressure”, as well as investigating whether anything “strange” affected his car in Melbourne.
While Ferrari hasn’t confirmed whether or not there was a particular issue with that chassis, it seems that for peace of mind if nothing else the team has decided that Massa will now use chassis number 294, instead of 293, at Sepang with the decision “taken to clear up any doubts about the unusual performance of his car during the weekend at Albert Park”.
In light of his Melbourne struggles, team-mate Fernando Alonso’s battling drive to fifth place, while acting as a morale-booster for Ferrari as a whole, only served to increase the media scrutiny on Massa personally – the Brazilian already under the pressure to deliver in the final year of his contract in wake of two underwhelming seasons.
Few believe the Brazilian will stay on into an eighth campaign next year, and while patience with him is likely to be wearing thinner than ever before at the moment, Ferrari has been steadfastly loyal to the 30-year-old since he arrived from Sauber to partner Michael Schumacher to much media scepticism in 2006. The team’s ever forthright editorial on its website pointed out that the current situation was nothing new for the Brazilian and that it would continue to stand by him.
“Felipe has certainly been the target of criticism after the race in Albert Park. But the Brazilian driver is used to this situation and remembers well 2008 when after two races – Australia and Malaysia – he had a zero in the points column and many of the media were calling for him to be fired on the spot. Many of those commentators had to change their minds given that only a few exceptional circumstances – from the piston in Budapest to the pit stop in Singapore to cite the most striking examples – denied him the world championship. Felipe knows he can count on the team to do everything, both from the technical and the operational point of view, to put him in a better state to show off his talents.”