This weekend at the Turkish Grand Prix a lot of attention is likely to fall on Felipe Massa.
A three times winner of the Istanbul race, this is a weekend when he needs to show that he still has it in him to take Ferrari to the winner’s circle and to run his team mate Fernando Alonso close. If Red Bull still has a big margin over the rest, as is expected, then Massa’s minimum task is to beat Alonso.
“I hope everything will work well, the tyres especially, ” said Massa on the Ferrari.com website. “If everything works perfectly I think we can have a competitive car. It’s a track which I love to race on, I enjoy driving this track and I won three times in five races.”
Massa’s recent performances have been rather tentative. He was given a new chassis, but in Spain he never found the sweet spot and was off the pace.
Whatever anybody says to the contrary, the arrival of Alonso has certainly changed his world and it appears that Massa is struggling to breathe in the team when Alonso is skilled at consuming much of the air.
As well as the psychological side, there is also a technical reason for his mini-slump; he does seem to have a problem with the 2010 specification Bridgestone tyres, particularly the harder compounds. His competitiveness dropped off sharply in Spain once he fitted the harder tyre at the pit stop. Alonso seems to get more from the tyre.
In Istanbul this weekend the tyre allocation is the same as Spain, namely the soft and hard compounds, the hardest in the range. This is due to the demands of the notorious multi apex Turn 8, which puts a huge load in the tyre, particularly the front right. Massa’s long runs on the tyre will be scrutinised carefully to see if he and the team have found a set up solution.
Massa’s job in Spain was also made harder by the way he had to move his left hand away from the wheel to control the switch for the F Duct rear wing. According to Gazzetta dello Sport, Massa has his steering wheel more advanced than Alonso and so his hand had to travel further to operate the switch.
This weekend Ferrari will have a revised version of its drag reducing rear wing. The team has modified the driver management system so that instead of the driver activating the switch to cut drag by closing a valve using the outside of his hand, he now uses his knee, like the McLaren drivers.
But there is also additional modification to make sure that the wing still works to its maximum potential when it is switched “off”. In Spain the team found that, while improving straight line speed, it also harmed the overall downforce of the car in medium and high speed corners. Like the KERS system the team had last year, a system which was supposed to improve competitiveness actually made the car more difficult to drive.
Nicolas Todt, Massa’s manager said that he is optimistic that his man will renew his deal at Ferrari, for which he receives a retainer of around €12 million per season. But it is known that Ferrari is studying Robert Kubica’s form, the Pole is a favourite of FIAT boss Sergio Marchionne. There has been talk of Mark Webber being under examination as well, but recently it seems that he is moving closer to a renewal with Red Bull.
Massa is known to have taken soundings with Red Bull and Renault about a seat for 2011 should his contract not be renewed.
Todt also underlined that the team is working to resolve Massa’s issue with the tyres and that people shouldn’t rush to judgement on him just yet,
“We’ve seen that in races with supersoft tyres Felipe has been level with Alonso, like in Monaco and Bahrain,” said Todt in Autosprint magazine.
“The truth is that he has problems with hard tyres, because the car doesn’t have enough load for his driving style and he struggles more to control the car compared with Alonso.”