Felipe Massa has endured a lot of criticism in the last 18 months. And perhaps deservedly so. His performance in 2011 fell far short of what was required, and the first few races of 2012 were much the same. But he may be coming right.
Monaco was Massa’s first competitive race of 2012. After qualifying seventh, he finished a strong sixth, very much on the pace of the leaders. But that was just one race and it was at Monaco, the most unusual of all tracks on the calendar.
In Canada, Massa’s newfound form continued with sixth in qualifying. In the race, he was immediately quick, passing Nico Rosberg soon after a good start. His early progress was ended by a spin in the first corner of lap six – his own mistake. Unfortunately, the spin damaged his tyres, which caused Ferrari to change his strategy and ultimately ended his challenge for good points. He finished tenth.
Massa’s spin in Canada is a good sign. It shows that he is pushing hard. He is not tentative, not cautious, not lacking confidence. Rather, he is going for it aggressively on the track, giving everything he has in the pursuit of results. That attitude is far more significant than his fairly mediocre finishing position.
Confidence and commitment are everything in racing. Massa seems to be re-discovering his comfort zone, and it shows on the track. If this trend continues, Massa should move steadily up the grid throughout the season. Ferrari could certainly use him alongside Alonso at the front of the field.
In a desperate and spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to win yesterday’s Canadian Grand Prix, Ferrari tried to get one set of soft tyres to last 51 laps on Fernando Alonso’s car.
Alonso was running second when Lewis Hamilton pitted 20 laps from the end of the race. Hamilton had a slow pitstop, which could have played into Alonso’s hands if he had chosen to pit immediately. Instead, Ferrari chose to keep him out until the end of the race, hoping that his tyres would hold together long enough to defend against the charging Hamilton.
Ultimately, the strategy failed. Alonso finished fifth after his tyres dropped off significantly and he found himself lapping over three seconds off the pace. He was passed by Grosjean, Perez and then Vettel, who had tried to stay out but elected to pit when Hamilton had passed him. Alonso would probably have finished second if he had pitted when Hamilton did. Instead, he ended up off the podium, struggling for grip in the final laps.
This is not the first time a driver has tried to stay out too long on one set of tyres this season. Kimi Raikkonen showed quite emphatically how badly that can go when he fell back from second to 14th in China as he suddenly found himself with no rear grip. It had to be tried once, but that should have been enough to convince all of the teams that it was a bad idea.
Ferrari saw what happened to Raikkonen in China. They also saw that Hamilton was a second a lap quicker than Alonso on his fresh tyres. It was inevitable that Hamilton would catch and pass Alonso. It was simply a question of when. Ferrari should have realised that they were in fact racing Vettel, Grosjean and Perez, not Hamilton. Had they pulled Alonso into the pits, the likely result would have been a podium and an extended Championship lead for Alonso. Instead, they got fifth place and Alonso is now running second in the Drivers’ Championship.
It was poor strategy call, a desperate attempt to achieve the unachievable. At this stage of the season, consistent results are more important than wins. A team as experienced as Ferrari really should have known better.
Mercedes are having a very mixed-up season. The car is quick in the right conditions, but the two sides of the garage have had remarkably different seasons.
Nico Rosberg is having the season of his life. Pole position and victory in China, second in Monaco, plus three other top 10 finishes mean he is fifth in the Drivers’ Championship, just 21 points behind leader Lewis Hamilton.
Michael Schumacher, on the other hand, is having the worst season of his illustrious career. In seven races, he has had five retirements, only one of which can be called his fault – he crashed out in Spain – and two tenth place finishes, meaning he has just two points to his name.
In Australia, Schumacher’s gearbox failed. China saw him retire with a loose wheel after a pitstop. His race ended early in Monaco with a fuel pressure problem. Yesterday in Canada, the DRS on his Mercedes stuck open, an unusual issue in any Formula One car.
What is happening to Mercedes? One side of the garage is doing well, the other side is struggling to make it to the chequered flag. As Formula One heads to Valencia for the European Grand Prix, it is time for Schumacher’s team to provide some explanations.
Lewis Hamilton has won the Canadian Grand Prix to become the seventh winner in seven races this season.
Sebastian Vettel led the field away from pole position, and maintained his lead until the first round of pitstops. Vettel blinked first, which put Hamilton in the lead before he in turn pitted to hand the lead to Fernando Alonso. Alonso put in a series of quick laps before he came in, and managed to get out in the lead. However, Hamilton was close behind on warmer tyres and managed to pass Alonso with the benefit of DRS.
On lap 50, Hamilton pitted from the lead, expecting Alonso and Vettel to follow suit. It soon became clear that neither the Ferrari nor the Red Bull intended to change tyres, which meant Hamilton would have to catch and pass them on the track. He duly set about chasing down Vettel, reeling him in at a second or more per lap. With 8 laps to go, Hamilton eased past Vettel in the DRS zone. Two laps later, Hamilton rocketed past Alonso to take the lead, which he easily held to the chequered flag.
Behind Hamilton, there was plenty of action. Alonso had elected to stay out on his worn-out tyres, while Vettel chose to pit as soon as Hamilton had passed him. Alonso therefore became a soft target for those behind him who still had some rubber left. Grosjean and Perez made quick work of the Ferrari to take up the second and third places on the podium. Vettel proved the worth of his pitstop by passing Alonso to take 4th place.
Alonso held on to finish 5th, just ahead of Nico Rosberg’s Mercedes. Webber, Raikkonen, Kobayashi and Massa rounded out the top ten.
Michael Schumacher’s run of bad luck continued with another retirement. His DRS stuck open, which meant he had plenty of straight-line speed, but absolutely no cornering grip, and he was forced to retire the car. With five retirements from seven races, the seven-time World Champion is having a thoroughly miserable season.
Williams seem to have recovered their previous poor form after winning in Spain. Maldonado finished 13th today, and Senna could only manage 17th. Similarly, Jenson Button’s season seems to be falling apart. The 2009 World Champion struggled to keep his tyres together and made three stops on the way to his second successive 16th place – not an ideal result for the team-mate of the race winner.
Hamilton’s win puts him in the lead of the Drivers’ Championship, just two points ahead of Alonso, and 1 further point ahead of Vettel. Mark Webber in fourth is just nine points behind Hamilton, and Nico Rosberg is 21 points off the championship lead.
The teams now pack up and head back to Europe for the next round in Valencia. With 13 races to go, the Drivers’ Championship is wide open. Will there be an eighth winner in eight races? We’ll find out in two weeks time.