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Massa could still have key role to play in F1 title race

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Jonathan Legard | 19:51 UK time, Friday, 5 November 2010

Felipe Massa could not have made his intentions for this weekend's Brazilian Grand Prix any clearer.

"I expect to win the race," he said after arriving at Interlagos on Thursday. "I see myself taking points from other drivers who are fighting for the championship."

Given his recent record at his home track, Massa has every reason to bang the drum for his side of the Ferrari garage.

He has started his last three races at Interlagos on pole. He has won twice and sacrificed another certain victory in 2007 to allow former team-mate Kimi Raikkonen through to become world champion ahead of Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who was then at McLaren.

Last year, he did not race here as he was still recovering from the accident at the Hungarian Grand Prix in which he fractured his skull.

But he did attend the race, and waved the chequered flag at Mark Webber, who pulled off a commanding win for Red Bull which then became lost among Jenson Button's championship celebrations.

Massa is not alone in talking up his chances on Sunday.

In the words of a rival team principal very much in the title hunt: "Massa could be the joker this weekend. He's strong here."

But then came the put-down which will be forever aimed in his direction because of that now-infamous team radio message - "Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understand?" - during July's German Grand Prix.

Ferrari's Felipe MassaMassa has not enjoyed the best of seasons. Photo: Getty Images

"Massa, winning this weekend? No chance! With Alonso going for the title, there can only be one Ferrari winner," said the same source.

Nevertheless, Massa, who claimed that it was his decision to move aside to let his team-mate win in Germany, could find himself a key player.

The furore over Ferrari's team orders at Hockenheim - the sport's biggest headline story of the season, with a review of the ban pending at the end of the year - has given an extra edge to this dramatic five-way title contest.

If Massa turns in a strong front-running performance here, that could force some tough calls on the team bosses at Red Bull and McLaren, who still have both their drivers in the championship mix.

After Mark Webber's spiky rebuke to Red Bull over a perceived lack of equal treatment with Sebastian Vettel, that pit-wall group will certainly be one to watch.

For Ferrari, with only Alonso in contention, there's one less complication - and a simple strategy to follow.

If Massa is in a position to help the team achieve their goal - Alonso becoming world champion - they expect him to do so. Remember, Alonso is the only driver who can wrap up the title on Sunday.

With Alonso joining the team for 2010, Ferrari chose to keep faith with Massa despite uncertainty over his recovery from his accident and instead to pay off Raikkonen a year before his contract expired. Massa will be expected to repay that loyalty.

Massa himself was quick to remind the media on Thursday about how he had served the team interest here by helping the Finn to the title three years ago.

How he executes any repeat manoeuvre this year - with the furore over team orders still in the forefront of everyone's minds, and in front of a home crowd angered by his subservience in Germany - remains to be seen.

But the more immediate question is whether Massa will be competitive enough to play his supporting role this weekend.

Are we going to see the Massa who out-qualified Alonso in Turkey and Belgium and who launched himself so decisively into the lead from row two at Hockenheim?

Or will he produce another like at the last race in Korea, where the gap to his team-mate was little short of a second, the biggest of the year?

I understand that Massa's race engineer, Rob Smedley, with whom he has such a strong partnership, was so frustrated by his driver's efforts in Korean qualifying that he let him stew overnight before discussing the session or race strategy.

That cold shoulder treatment apparently had the desired impact on race day, when Massa did not put a wheel wrong in the tricky wet conditions.

As you will see in the interviews with the pair in the BBC One qualifying show on Saturday, Massa draws great strength from Smedley's expertise.

"He's always telling me things I need to do, he knows what I'm thinking," reveals Massa.
"He can make me drive faster."

Sir Jackie Stewart, who rated Massa's drives last year before his accident as his best, believes the 29-year-old has yet to come to terms with Alonso's superiority within the team and the fall-out from Hockenheim.

"I have to believe that Alonso went to Ferrari as number one, either written or agreed," he said.

"That result in Germany was a huge disappointment. But I suspect Alonso would have driven away anyway if he'd got past because he'd been quicker all weekend.

"And Massa will continue to lose out if his own performance is not good enough."

That view holds water among some within Ferrari who feel that Massa has not done himself justice this season because he has been unsettled by Alonso's pace.
The Spaniard has been consistently faster in qualifying, with his average advantage slightly more than 0.3 seconds.

There was friction between the pair after the Australian Grand Prix when Alonso felt Massa had cost him victory by needlessly holding him up. And that culminated in Massa's blatant switch of positions in Germany.

If the Brazilian is going to redeem himself in the eyes of his public, he will need better reliability than he had in second practice today when his car stopped on the track with a gearbox problem. It cost him almost half an hour's running time.

Because of his extensive experience of this track, that may not prove as damaging as Red Bull's early demonstration of impressive performance.

Ferrari and McLaren typically come on stronger in races, and their extra speed down the two long straights could counter Red Bull's pace through the in-field section of this bowl-like circuit.

But if Massa's confidence is stuttering and the conditions are unpredictable - heavy rain, like last year, is forecast for qualifying - he may find himself playing catch-up on the title contenders he's meant to be beating. Just like he has done all year.

And despite those best intentions, his team-mate will be left to take the fight to the front on his own.

Comments

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  • 1. At 9:21pm on 05 Nov 2010, Stee_vee_E wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 2. At 9:26pm on 05 Nov 2010, Stee_vee_E wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 3. At 9:45pm on 05 Nov 2010, U14474051 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 4. At 9:56pm on 05 Nov 2010, andy j wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 5. At 10:15pm on 05 Nov 2010, maxwelldavies wrote:

    I'm baffled by the negative comments, the story may not have the pulling power of say the latest cutting remark made by Webber, however it raises a great point about how the standings could be influenced on the eve of what promises to be a great race weekend.

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  • 6. At 10:33pm on 05 Nov 2010, Nickynak wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 7. At 10:51pm on 05 Nov 2010, U14474051 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 8. At 10:53pm on 05 Nov 2010, goldMarkL1 wrote:

    He will be arrested and faces 6 years in jail if he interferes with the result of the race so he won't play any role in the F1 title race

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  • 9. At 11:54pm on 05 Nov 2010, Nickynak wrote:

    For anybody interested, I mentioned Jonathan Legard in my comment as did the others, draw your own conclusions.

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  • 10. At 00:00am on 06 Nov 2010, Formula90210 wrote:

    I heard the Brazilian prosecutors said Massa would be sent to jail for 6 years for fraud if he affected the race result. Bit odd I must admit! If I was Massa and had that warning I'd just sit out the race to be safe.

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  • 11. At 00:06am on 06 Nov 2010, Robert wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 12. At 00:49am on 06 Nov 2010, Robert wrote:

    We need rain rain rain rain rain RAIN RAIN RAIN :),..THIS IS GOING TO BE SO FANTASTIC LOL

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  • 13. At 02:18am on 06 Nov 2010, Frique wrote:

    Massa seems to have pulled his thumb out in the last few races, unlike Jenson "excuses" Button, but i still think he will not be as big an influence as reliability. I have been saying for weeks now that all Lewis needs to do is Qualify 4th or better 3rd for the next two races.
    I am convinced of the 5 conteners he has less mileage on his engines due to the number of DNFs he has suffered and the fact that two of the four came very early in races. So Johnathan due to the unique nature of the track where the 1&2 sectors requiring a different set-up to the 3rd, the high temperatures and the fact that the engines are all well used, can you imagine the Bulls or Alonso relishing a sustained attack from Lewis for the entire GP?

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  • 14. At 06:57am on 06 Nov 2010, Igottaeugeone wrote:

    As a Brit living in Spain for years, I have witnessed with dismay the media furore and downright villainous propaganda that both Spanish and British press have aimed at Alonso and Hamilton since their acrimonious partnership in McLaren. Since then though, the Spanish press have stopped attacking Hamilton and focussed on the progress of Alonso. In fact they show grudging respect for Hamilton`s agressive exciting driving ability. However, the British press continue to snipe and sow evil seeds of acrimony around the FI circuit, their main target being Alonso who is of course the main threat to their man Hamilton.

    Given that Alonso is increasingly looking like being the champion in 2010 - although anything can happen - you can see the GB press and their expert cronies propaganda machine laying down the markers and the excuses for this situation - i.e. Alonso being let through by his teammate in Germany. Shame on you! If you believe that is the difference between Alonso and the other contenders then you are as blinkered and one sided as the articles you write.

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  • 15. At 08:27am on 06 Nov 2010, The Almighty Handshake wrote:

    I do believe that Fernando Alonso is the best overall driver in f1, however that aside if he does win the championship by less than 7 points it will be a diminished win. He wasn't fast enough to actually get past Felipe Massa and therefore didnt deserve to win the race, it was at a time when the title was still very much undecided, and has blighted the championship, if Alonso does win, I don't think it will e because he doesn't deserve it but I do think it will blemish this Title. I admire Alonso just for the way he has clawed his way back into the title fight. Fair play to him.

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  • 16. At 08:42am on 06 Nov 2010, bacaruda wrote:

    I hope to see Massa back at his best. The accident last year has affected him. The impressive thing for me about Massa´s career is that he has always worked hard to overcome his weaknesses, rather than coast at a level. It may be that the accident in Hungary was a bigger shock to his system than he realises, needing more time to get over.

    Anyway, as a decent man and a very good driver, he fully desrves his seat, and it would be great to see him more involved in the leading bunch.

    Massa winning in Brazil is not prejudicial to Alonso at all, providing Alonso is 2nd. A win for any driver other than RBR or McLaren drivers hurts the other contenders more than it hurts Alonso.

    With regard to post (14), I also live in Spain and follow the racing in Spanish. I usually find the reporting rather uninformed and biased. It is only this year that even token grudging respect has come Hamilton´s way, and the popular view forever will be that he´s some kind of amoral over-ambitious Dick Dastardly. Alonso is universally admired in Spain, but not universally liked. He´s supposed to have grown arrogant and introspective over the years, and Nadal has moved into the "nice boy" seat.

    That´s all just tittle-tattle for the masses. There is a real spark when Hamilton and Alonso are able to race each other. They clearly respect ,rather than despise, each other. It will be great if this championship goes to the wire.

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  • 17. At 09:06am on 06 Nov 2010, U14523379 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 18. At 09:36am on 06 Nov 2010, Keep F1 on the BBC wrote:

    @Jonathan Legard

    Sir Jackie Stewart, who rated Massa's drives last year before his accident as his best, believes the 29-year-old has yet to come to terms with Alonso's superiority within the team and the fall-out from Hockenheim.


    If Alonso wins the championship is there much point in Massa staying? Every driver knows what happend at McLaren when Alonso was there but with also another driver with a good chance at being champion to.

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  • 19. At 09:43am on 06 Nov 2010, Lord_Lancashire wrote:

    I await qualifying with bated breath....

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  • 20. At 10:03am on 06 Nov 2010, Teflonso the King of Motorsport wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 21. At 10:14am on 06 Nov 2010, Bart_E_Slartfast wrote:

    Massa moving over in Germany -

    If Alonso wins the WDC by less than 7 pts many will see the win as tainted.

    Conversely, Ferrari will see it as a full vindication of teams orders.

    I agree with the former position but I don't think the tifosi or the nandonistas will care a bit just like Schumacher's fans don't care about the way the majority of his titles were won.

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  • 22. At 10:26am on 06 Nov 2010, safeeuropeanhome wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 23. At 10:30am on 06 Nov 2010, steveblack1000 wrote:

    #15 if alonso is so brilliant why could he not pass his own teammate in Germany who he was "faster" than? [Quote. Rob Smedley]

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  • 24. At 10:58am on 06 Nov 2010, Fed_Borg wrote:

    Why does it sound like you are justifying the team orders that were given in Germany. Alonso was not fast enough to get past nd in my book that makes him a little less than the top driver he claims to be.

    Should he win the title by winning, that is fine, but I have a feeling that the Germany result will come back to haunt him, by showing he really is not that fast!!

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  • 25. At 11:38am on 06 Nov 2010, Jon Morrison wrote:

    What's stopping Massa going incredibly light on fuel to get pole, leads the race for the first 20 laps, meanwhile alonso pits after say 10 laps as Massa holds the pack up. Then after the pit cycle, alsono emerges out front. Then Massa totally backs off and limps to the finish. championship over.

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  • 26. At 11:43am on 06 Nov 2010, Bart_E_Slartfast wrote:

    @25

    Other teams would realise what was happening and react to it. They would observe that Ferrari were preparing for a pitstop and would then prepare for and instruct their leading contenders to come in.

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  • 27. At 12:38pm on 06 Nov 2010, goldMarkL1 wrote:

    @25, because there is no fuel strategy anymore. They are all incredibly light in qualifying and full tanks for the race.

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  • 28. At 8:04pm on 06 Nov 2010, U14474051 wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 29. At 09:13am on 07 Nov 2010, peeX200 wrote:

    Jenson, those guys with guns were Alonso's pit crew with wheel guns. Your driver sounds useful .. put him out in the other McLaren to deal with the red cars, an armour plated Mercedes, now thats what I call a safety car, probably faster than Scumi's Merc tho, I am sure Bernie would have paid the ransom.... or would he ? Good luck for the rce, glad you are safe !

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  • 30. At 09:21am on 07 Nov 2010, peeX200 wrote:

    No team orders at Red Bull of course , but what if Seb was encouraged to take out the Spannish guy in the red car....leaving Skippy the bush kangaroo, to win the race, Seb is is too far down the grid, so its over to you to you Lewis, 1st corner carnage ?

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  • 31. At 09:32am on 07 Nov 2010, AndySchleck wrote:

    Well Massa got the 9th time in pole position so will be almost impossible for him to win the stage if we count that 2th is Vettel .Also Webber is 3th and also is 5th and will be very hard for the spanish pilot to gain points in his battle with Webber.

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  • 32. At 3:49pm on 07 Nov 2010, Min wrote:

    Who dressed Eddie jordan? he looks like he's been attacked by a paint baller!!!!!! lets hope he has a better shirt next time.

    Min

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  • 33. At 6:23pm on 07 Nov 2010, Jbruna wrote:

    So let's recap....British media and BBC particularly has been complaining about Alonso's overtake to Massa following team orders, even to the point of calling Alonso a cheater.

    And now, to my surprise, Eddie Jordan says "it would be the right thing to do to let Webber pass Vettel if there is a need next weekend"?.

    Sorry, Eddie, as much as I respected your comments in the past, I now realize you are as weak as your words are.

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  • 34. At 11:00am on 08 Nov 2010, steveblack1000 wrote:

    #33, that would even it out though. An Alonso championship by 7 points or less would be a tainted championship.

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  • 35. At 01:47am on 10 Nov 2010, mollycassis wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

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