Felipe Massa believes that McLaren have the edge in Shanghai after Lewis Hamilton out-qualified both Ferraris to pole position for Sunday’s critical Chinese Grand Prix.
Massa, who arrives in Shanghai with a five points deficit to Hamilton which he must close, struggled to match the pace of his championship rival in qualifying and starts the race from third on the grid, behind Kimi Raikkonen, but crucially ahead of Fernando Alonso and Heikki Kovalainen.
Hamilton’s advantage seems as much to do with the Briton’s searing pace around the 4.45km circuit as it is any performance gap between the two rival teams he has dominated the running all weekend but Massa admits that Ferrari have been struggling and reckons McLaren do have a small performance advantage.
“We have been struggling a bit through the weekend, just struggling to make the right lap, which is quite difficult to put everything together,” he said.
“It looks like the McLaren guys found it a little bit easier to pull that together, but we don’t know if that will be (the case) in the race.”
Massa is hopeful Ferrari will get back on level terms with McLaren in the race, as they did in Japan.
“I had a similar result in qualifying (in Japan) but had the pace in the race,” he said. “I hope to have a strong pace in the race and maybe we can improve our car in the long stints.”
Team mate Kimi Raikkonen, who could play a decisive support role to Massa in Sunday’s race by taking the victory of Hamilton, also conceded that Ferrari have been struggling with the setup of the car, but was nonetheless happy to start from the front row.
“It hasn’t been the most easiest of weeks,” said the Finn. “We tried many things, played around with the setup and finally today we found a good setup, which seemed to work well in Q3.”
“As long as you are in the top ten, that’s fine you can be competitive. McLaren have been very good. We will see tomorrow how they are on race pace. We have a very good pace to start tomorrows race.”
Massa is currently five points behind Lewis Hamilton in the world championship and must close the gap if he is to have any hope of realising his title ambitions in front of his home crowd in Brazil in a fortnight.
Ferrari meanwhile hold a seven point lead over McLaren in the constructors battle after the Woking squad’s points duck in Japan.