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Massa rediscovers his self belief
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Posted By: James Allen  |  17 Jan 2013   |  12:12 pm GMT  |  51 comments

The return to form of Felipe Massa was one of the more heartening stories of the second half of last season.

In the 11 races prior to the Belgian GP last year the Brazilian had scored just 25 points, but in the remaining nine races from Spa onwards he scored 97 points, with two podiums.

Speaking at the Ferrari Wrooom event in Madonna di Campiglio this morning, Massa said that this was down to a shift in his own mental approach rather than to any changes on the car which may have suited his style,

“It is not that the car changed that much from August in reality,” he said. “There was also a change from my side. Even if 90 per cent of people do not want to believe in me any more, it is important that you believe so you are not good one day and bad the day after.”

Massa had struggled to match the performance of Fernando Alonso and had lost sight of what was important. Too hung up on what Alonso was doing, he failed to focus on his getting the most from his own situation.

However by looking back and reflecting on his 2008 campaign, which almost brought him the world title in a close fight with McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, Massa rediscovered his self-belief,

“You need to believe in what you can do. I believe in myself, I know I can be a champion, I know I can win, I know I can be what I was all my career,” he said. “I think after you understand yourself it makes you stronger and stronger all the time.”

This is such a vital and under-considered part of the racing driver’s make up. It’s an interesting area; if you look at the GB Cycling Team under Sir Dave Brailsford, he introduced psychiatrist Steve Peters to the team and he worked with the riders to strip down their psyche and discover the “inner chimp”; that part of the mind left over from primitive times, which is both destructive and self-destructive.

By teaching the riders to understand that side of their minds and to recognise the signs of self-doubt, he trained them to master self-doubt when in competition.

Unlike elite athletes in every other mainstream professional sport, it’s amazing how little of this goes on in F1; it’s not in the culture of F1 for drivers to have coaches beyond a simple physio, who attends races with the driver for massages and fitness work. Some drivers have seen a sports psychologist, some have the odd session with a driver coach, but compared to tennis players, golfers and footballers they are very light on support staff.

You can look down the grid and see a number of drivers who clearly were struggling with various issues, many of them to do with their mental approach. It’s good that Massa identified his problem and sorted it out and we wait to see what kind of performance he puts in next season. Outqualifying Alonso twice in the closing stages of the season will have given him a huge boost.

By focussing on himself, rather than worrying about what Alonso was doing in the other car, Massa rediscovered his touch and he was visibly happier in himself.

In the first half of the season he had looked like a man who had fallen out of love with the sport,

“Maybe I was not enjoying my job so much, maybe I was not happy,” he admitted today. “I am happy now. When you get into the car and want to have fun and enjoy it, that is when you can do your job in the best way possible.

“By doing that you can have a year like 2008.”

Following up on yesterday’s English language conference with team principal Stefano Domenicali, the Italian language conference yielded some other interesting notes.

The 47 year old told Italian colleagues that the 2013 car would be “extreme, at the limits of the regulations. Because of the continuity of the rules, not much will change on the outside, but inside there will be interesting modifications because we have explored areas which haven’t been looked about before particularly in the area of the exhausts.”

He is convinced that Alonso will be able to repeat his extraordinary form of 2012 and that if the car is on the pace from the outset this will put him in with a great chance of winning the title, “Since he has been with us, ” said Domenicali, “He has always amazed us with his strength; his capacity to fight is a guarantee.”

He spoke about 2014 as a positive challenge for the engine makers, but reminded his audience of where Ferrari’s priorities lay,

“The priority is 2013. Because we have to win.”

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51 Comments
  1. ArJay says:

    If Massa has truly rediscovered his self-belief then I assume he’ll be adopting a Raikkonen-style response to his race-engineer’s inane in-race words of encouragement.

    1. Anil says:

      ‘Felipe, Fernando is faster than you, do you understand?’

      ‘Yes yes yes, I know, you don’t need to keep reminding me every second’

      1. Mitchel says:

        He he, that’s brilliant!

    2. Simmo says:

      I doubt that. I think he appreciates the encouragement more then most drivers would, and also him and Rob Smedley have a relationship which few other drivers/engineers have.

      But it would be quite funny! :D

    3. Wayne says:

      That’s obviously what Massa wants from his engineer, Smedley wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. RAI’s way isn’t the only way or even the right way for some drivers. Some would call RAI rude for example.

      I believe Massa has indeed rediscovered his self belief. His performance in Brazil was utterly outstanding for me, and the best example of ‘driving for the team I have ever seen’.

      He let ALO past twice, once while holding Webber wide at the same time, was fast when he needed to be and held other drivers up when he needed to. Simply sublime to watch. I had been a vocal critic of Massa, but while one drive does not make a champion, his drive in Brazil was one of the drives of the season for me.

      1. RobertS says:

        agreed

  2. goferet says:

    Apparently Massa was able to get back his self belief thanks to a sports psychologist.

    In my view, Massa’s accident in 2009 made him a little afraid to take risks and get the best out of himself (seeing as he has a family and all) and if you compound this with a ill handling car in the first half of 2012, you then have a downward spiral which ultimately leads to depression.

    So yes, in my psycho-analysis, I believe Massa was depressed and with depressed people, you can’t get the best out of them for they no longer enjoy what they’re doing and thus no longer motivated.

    Anyway, am on-form Massa is an asset for not only can he rank in points for the WCC title but he can also be vital in the driver’s championship e.g. Brazil 2007 and Brazil 2006 (if everything had gone Schumi’s way).

    P.s.

    Why I think drivers don’t have coaches, it has something to do with male ego.

    Think about it, not many blokes can take it if they were continuously given instructions on how to driver through traffic by somebody seated in the passengers seat.

    Professional boxers on the other hand have coaches and listen to instruction because boxing is a technical sport kind of how drivers listen to the pit wall.

    As for Rugby and football, those have coaches too because you need somebody to coordinate a large bunch of fellas chasing a tiny ball, kind of like how an army needs a General/Colonel to make order of chaos.

    1. For sure says:

      I think Boxers need coaches more because some coaches have produced many many world champions that no champion’s knowledge or experience comes close to coaches’.
      In f1, things change all the time, these guys know the lines, different cars behave differently. I don’t think even a guy like Schumacher can coach due to the constant changing environment.
      But they certainly do need a guy like Rob Smedley, who is a legend.

  3. goferet says:

    He is convinced that Alonso will be able to repeat his extraordinary form of 2012
    ————————————————-

    Not really!!!!!!!!!

    I think Alonso may have his hands full in 2013.

    First, not only does he now have Massa to worry about but he also can’t blame the car for poor performances because the rules haven’t changed.

    Also Alonso will have the pretty unlucky number 3 car in 2013, the same number Schumi had when he broke his leg in 1999.

    The same number Lewis had his worst season (to date) in 2011.

    The same number Kimi had when he lost his Ferrari seat in 2009

    And the same number Jenson had when he had a torrid time in 2012, trying to get heat in his front tyres.

    P.s.

    Currently it has only been Jacques in a Williams that’s been able to win with the number 3 car back in 1997 (incidentally which was a Newey creation)

    1. Señor Sjon says:

      Schumacher won the 2000 world championship with number three…

    2. M. Yoon says:

      totally irrelvant to bring up your own superstitions. it maybe unlucky in your culture, but not in theirs.

    3. Steve says:

      Schumacher won the 2000 title with car number 3.

    4. Kay says:

      Seems like you rely on car numbers as your fortune telling thing for upcoming seasons like how you’ve also commented in the past.

      2008, Hamilton won the WDC with car 23. How’s that for statistics before he won it?

      Kind of pointless really…

      1. Simmo says:

        Interestingly, a year later, at the same track, in the same finishing position, another British driver (JB) won in the car 23!!

    5. Yak says:

      Superstitions about a number on a car are pointless. It’s nothing but coincidence, and I’m sure you could find similar stats for all kinds of numbers. How many drivers with 1 on their car have won a championship vs how many haven’t? Given the relatively few drivers who have won back to back championships, it’s gonna look pretty bad for anyone with a 1 on their car.

      But, if Massa can keep up his pace from late-2012, Alonso does indeed have something to worry about. I quite dislike the way Ferrari are only speaking of Alonso’s chances at the championship, pretty much just ruling out Massa before the pre-season testing has started.

    6. krischar says:

      @ Goferet

      Who needs luck ?

      Fernando Alonso is the most gifted and talented driver out there

      No matter what the car number is

      Alonso will be massive this season and will surpass his 2012 performance.

      Stefano is right here. Alonso will deliver irrespective of the machinery he is going to drive for.

      Why alonso need to worry about massa ? massa will be back to his usual standards

      Many people here have their blinkers on. Massa will be better off. If he tries to score some points rather than talks like this.

  4. Shane says:

    A fast Felipe could prove troublesome for Ferrari. I think Alonso will most likely come out on top over a season against almost any driver, but a fast Felipe will certainly take points away. Felipe can be amazingly quick in qualifying, I think he sometimes struggles to put a race together but you can’t doubt his speed over a single lap (excluding the last season and a half). Felipe, if he is back on form, could prove to be quite the spoiler for Alonso.

    1. hero_was_senna says:

      It would be wonderful if he does push Alonso, because Alonso will raise his game. Isn’t that exactly what we want?

      1. schumerak says:

        if Massa had been delivering at some of the earlier GPs in 2012, he would have also been taking points of Alonso’s rivals, as well as from Alonso. Not to say that would have changed the end result, but I don’t think a resurgent Massa would be detrimental to Ferrari’s title chances, either in the constructor’s or driver’s championships.

    2. Simmo says:

      What I want to see is Felipe fast, but not like Alonso. He should always be ready to help and push Alonso, but not beat him. I think that is what we will see.

      I expect some podiums from him, maybe a win or two!

      1. Elie says:

        What a ridiculous comment !- this is motor racing every driver if capable should have a chance of beating his team mate . What if Fernando has a bad year and does not perform as well -why would Ferrari not let Felipe take the lead- why would they risk a championship- I doubt very much it will be the case but you cannot automatically rule it out. Raikkonen won Ferrari the championship in 2007 and in 2008 he supported Felipe in a few races when Felipe was a genuine title contender- that’s how it should be !

      2. Simmo says:

        Obviously if Alonso was slow then yes, and he should be there to take over if Alonso has a problem. But in general, unless something drastic were to happen I would expect that to happen.

  5. Tim says:

    Big Thumbs-up, James. Well written piece of work. I was especially interested in the work done with the cycling team.
    Thanks,

    Tim

  6. Chris Horton says:

    It really does amaze me how quickly people change their tune, all I’ve seen for the past 2 years is people being unfairly critical of Massa and I even saw people commenting that Ferrari would be better with ANYONE but him.

    Now it’s all ‘Fernando might have his hands full with Felipe’.

    As I’ve said during these past two years, it’s easy to critisise, and I do believe Alonso will have a much tougher time against Felipe at his best, but what I still can’t get my head around is how, in one breath, people laud Alonso as the best driver in Formula One, one of the all time greats but then in the next breath, completely pan an ‘out of form, past it Massa’ for being 6/10ths off his pace in a difficult car.

    Bizarre.

    1. Elie says:

      How quickly ?- Any other driver in F1 would have been shown the door before even 2012 Given how he performed over three seasons. Ok Ferrari had a moral obligation to give him 2010 to recouperate but that’s it.

      It must be said that Ferrari gave incredible respect to Felipe for his years of loyalty of bowing to team orders that is how much emphasis they have put on a trusted no.2 Driver. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s great for Felipe and even for Ferrari because it now means they will be stronger for the 2013 constructors title. I also hope that Felipe shows everyone that Fernando is not the invincible guy most casual fans think- the last two races were evidence of this. For us fans it means greater battles at the front!

    2. Sebee says:

      Thanks Chris!

      I’ve been chewed up myself for defending Massa on here regularly.

      Clearly he got equal equipment last few races of 2013 and showed what he can do. If they keep giving him that hardware they have a chance in 2013. But Alonso and his fans may not like the results of that equal equipment treatment…if it happens. May look a bit bad if Massa has to move over for Alonso more than 6 times in a season.

      1. Chris Horton says:

        Agreed, it would look bad. Thing is, I’m confident Massa can be in that position regularly.

        Ferrari had to slow him down in both the Korean and US GP’s and I’m sure he was quicker in Brazil too. I’m just glad he doesn’t listen to the haters!

      2. Martin says:

        Hi Sebee,

        I’m not so sure on the equipment side. From what I read in Autosport race reviews, they had the same parts up until India, where Alonso got a special delivery of bits. Those seemed to work. The US race was another where Alonso had different parts. Those seemed faster on Friday, but not necessarily later on. Brazil was another case of this, plus Alonso went for a wet set up, but the race wasn’t wet enough to make it better. Better or worse car, Massa drove very strong races from Japan onwards.

        There were races such as Bahrain and Hungary that were before his “resurgence” where Massa matched Alonso the whole way. Pit stop strategy always favoured Alonso, and sometimes that separated them. It is races such as Italy that Felipe needs to avoid. Relatively slow in qualifying – Alonso was targetting a time that would set pole by 0.5 of second – and then caught and dropped during the race. Individual sets of tyres being great and poor respectively could have been the cause.

        Personally, I think the Ferrari situation is only slightly different to the Red Bull one. Alonso, like Vettel, has currently won the hearts and minds, but I think in Ferrari’s case the contracts for both drivers make it clear that the team is bigger than the drivers. If Felipe has a great season, then I believe there is nothing in the contracts to prevent a repeat of 2008, but I feel Alonso is more likely to throw the toys out of the pram than what Raikkonen did.

        Cheers,

        Martin

      3. Chris Horton says:

        ^ +1

      4. Sebee says:

        Martin,

        I know it seems weird. But honestly, you have to look at the situation and ask serious questions. Such as…

        Why did Massa come alive suddenly when Ferrari needed to take points of strong Red Bulls?

        How does moving Massa aside for Alonso look in the media? And since it looks bad, how can we avoid having to do it regularly?

        Who is our #1 asset, brining Santander money and agreed to leadership status for our team?

        Once you look at those questions a bit closer, I believe you will see that whatever it is that was holding back Massa, was on the equipment side. Once that was removed we saw that Massa is not at all worse than Alonso, and in fact fully up to the challange of taking it to him.

        If you look at last races, are you really going to buy the story of Alonso folding under pressure as excuse for Massa outperforming him as he did? I don’t. But I certainly buy into the fact that Alonso now has a seed planted in his mind that says “Massa can beat me.” It is yet another fascinating story line for 2013 to see if it will get to him, and if Ferrari will finally let Massa bring the results.

        I think that after 3 years of failure, Ferrari have to release Massa and let these boys race in equal hardware. At this point, they really have nothing to lose.

      5. Krischar says:

        Sebee why Ferrari need to give massa a equal equipment ?

        Take off your blinkers please

        Alonso fans will not like the results of equal equipment treatment ? Please wake up

        Did RBR ever gave webber a equal equipment or treatment ? NO (Turkey 2010 GB 2010, 2011)

        No matter how good a car massa has driven or will drive for. He will be slower and poor when pitted against alonso. In all reality massa have no quality what so ever to race along side Alonso

        Rubens did far better job against Schumi

        Get a reality check

      6. James Allen says:

        [Your posts are getting very close to crossing the line. Two have failed to pass moderation today. This is not a place to hammer drivers for the sake of it. Please make constructive comments or none at all - Mod]

  7. Jordon191 says:

    Do chimps struggle with self-doubt? I would think you’d like to cultivate your ‘inner chimp’ to help get rid of the self-doubt that plagues us over-thinking modern Homo sapiens . . .

  8. Sami says:

    Felipe Massa deserves respect, I have never been a fan of his, but fighting back in F1 with a titanium plate on your skull is really impressive.
    I just hope he will win another race before he retires, he certainly deserves it.

  9. Nice article,

    Spot on re the mental game in sport. It is such a big element.

    I have said it here before, but Vettel clearly is very good at this this. You can see him spending a lot of time visualizing while in the car over the weekend. As well as this, you will often see him with an iPod while in the garage, and music is a favourite brain preparing device for sports stars.

    Finally, it was interesting to hear Christian Horner speak about how Vettel was preparing for a race by playing an electric drum set. This was not by accident,.I feel he was doing this to get his brain used to rhythm, so important when you are racing

  10. JB says:

    Thanks for this great articles James Allen.

    There are some drivers I find is always confident and ready to give 100%. Schumacher, Alonso, Vettel are of that sort.

    Drivers like Massa, Barachello, Hamilton are all quite emotional. They are super-fast when their mood is right.
    I agree that with coaching and psychology, these emotional boys can be more consistent and be a serious threat!

    As your life in general, being good at controlling yourself and staying focused is a very powerful ability. Never underestimate your mind!

    1. Amritraj says:

      It is sad to see Hamilton clubbed with Massa and Barrichello in your assessment.

      Admittedly, I am a big Alonso supporter, but I believe Hamilton is the fastest driver on the grid.

      He is amazing in all conditions in any F1 car. 2011 saw frustrastions creep into his driving, similiar to what happended to Alonso in 2010.

      But given a car in the vicinity of being competitive and I can assure you Hamilton will be a title contender.

    2. JB says:

      Hopefully, the 2011 season was the lowest he will ever go. There is no doubt his personal life affected his performance so badly that he lost out to Button.

      I would suggest a proper coach to forge Hamilton’s natural abilities into a championship winning material. :D

  11. Elie says:

    Great article James. I guess it’s really tricky F1 is a sport that first and foremost demands the best racers with the will power and natural determination to win. At the same time it’s a business that has to detach itself from the drivers and look at things pragmatically- dealing with agents and so on.

    In the case of an accident it is the teams responsibility to provide all the medical support the driver needs- perhaps even the psychological rehab that comes with it. Poor performance :- where a driver is clearly driving below his best consistently – maybe it is only a Ferrari phenomenon for reasons already too well known and not only for Felipe. You cannot get the best out of people if they are puppets.

  12. Dave Aston says:

    Why does he still have a drive with a top team? I don’t understand.

    1. Tim says:

      You’re right. You don’t understand.

      Tim

    2. Simmo says:

      Because he did what was required of him from Ferrari – help Alonso, while doing well himself. That was his job, and in the last few races he did a stunning job of it all.

      Not just that, but there is also the speed at the end of the season – he was beating Alonso very often in the last few races/qualifying, and showed very promising performances since the Asian races began.

      1. Simmo says:

        Or even from before then

    3. Jake says:

      Simple, Ferrari could not find a suitable replacement. A good driver willing to play No 2 to Alonso.

  13. NJ says:

    You know guys like Rubens Barrichello talked liked this at Ferrari too….

  14. Pedro says:

    Massa should be respected and all of us who commented here would love to have his job. Driving a Ferrari, receiving a healthy salary of a few million euros and keeping a job when he performed badly in 2012 (at least until August). I know a couple of teachers in America who teach in an urban setting in Pennsylvania and they were given an unsatisfactory classroom observation ( a rating system used by American schools..) by a principal for having 3 kids out of 30 who had cell phones, even though the school district allows cell phones into the building…. That would have been as if Felipe Massa had won 18 out of 20 races and then the bosses at Ferrari rate him unsatisfactory…
    No wonder education in the big cities is so messed up…

    Massa is lucky! Don’t you say to anyone: Oh poor Massa..!!

  15. Pedro says:

    In big American cities the public education system is part of a different universe.. They allow teenagers to bring 10 cell phones if they want and nobody could stop them. If school cops(yes, they have cops and metal detectors in all high school in big American cities such as Nold York, Lost Angeles, Chokeago, Philthydelphia and so on…But they will bust on the teachers which are ranked lower than the mice and roaches in the buildings. Formula 1 might not be heaven but at least beats being a teacher since a teacher in America is supposed to win the education war with plastic spoonssss……

  16. Curro says:

    “Driver coaching” in F1 sounds strange because we still expect truly great drivers to sort out those details by themselves.

    From a F1 fan perspective, what’s the appeal of a driver short on talent becoming champion by means of employing a coach to overcome his mental weaknesses?

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