Taming Massa

2006 Massa Press Photo

Ferrari s new look senior management team head into the European season on a high after taking back-to-back victories at Malaysia and Bahrain. If the Scuderia are to maintain their assault of the title, Massa s inconsistent form must be top of the agenda argues Chris Hayes.

The big story heading into Bahrain – well one of the big stories – was the future of Felipe Massa. The Brazilian s embarrassing exits from the opening two races of the season led to all sorts of rumours about his replacement, some touting Alonso as the man to pick up the Ferrari ovals.

A dominant victory at Sakir may have saved Massa s bacon but a huge cloud of doubt still hangs over the youngster s racing ability. Make no bones about it, under pressure, in the heat of the battle, Massa will struggle, as he did in Melbourne, as he did in Malaysia and – significantly, in the context of his latest triumph – as he did in Bahrain when he blew pole position in the face of a charging Kubica.

Massa s inconsistency presents Ferrari s new management with something of a predicament. The 26-year-old is unlikely to mount – and most importantly, sustain – a championship challenge. Yet his odd surges to the top step of the rostrum here and there – not to mention his blistering one-lap pace – could play havoc with Raikkonen s assault on the title, especially given the dual threat from BMW and McLaren.

The problem is complicated further by the fact that Massa is unlikely to subscribe a support role within the team. Indeed in fairness it is hard to justify such a status when he trounces Raikkonen Bahrain-style and out-qualifies the Finn by almost half a second. Ferrari will therefore be hard-pressed to execute handovers and switches in the same way that they did in the Barrichello-Irvine era.

Think back to the last race of 2007 in Brazil. To enable Raikkonen to leapfrog Massa for the win, the Italian squad had to resort to cunningly feeding the Brazilian back out behind back-markers at the pit-stops. One wonders if Massa would have been willing and able to instigate the switch himself.

Come the next few races then, Ferrari need to figure out a way to ensure Massa is quick enough to take points of the BMW and McLaren drivers but tamed enough to yield to Raikkonen as and when it s required.

Top of the to-do list should be some sort of training to help Massa get to grip with the nuances of a traction-control less F1 car. That is only half the battle though: helping Massa make it to the chequered flag under pressure is firmly within The Scuderia s control, keeping Raikkonen free of Brazilian interference is an altogether more volatile affair.

A replacement might just be on the cards too…