Saturday, March 22, 2008

What a difference a week makes...

Having visibly struggled to get to grips with both the car and the track and succumbing to two pressure errors in wheel-to-wheel combat in Australia, Felipe Massa has, it seems, brought his 'A' game with him to Malaysia.

There was no evidence at all of the brittle, tense body language at the wheel that was so evident only a few days ago - the Massa that has just taken pole position for tomorrow's race was smooth, fluid, relaxed and visibly very quick indeed. The onboard camera footage showed a driver putting far less energy into his steering inputs than last weekend - his light grip on the wheel and loose arms and shoulders a stark contrast to the shots from Melbourne. Not even Raikonnen had an answer to him today and whilst a difference in fuel loads between the two Ferrari drivers could explain away the time between them, Rob Smedley, Massa's race engineer, seemed very confident that his boy had simply produced a stunning lap when quizzed by ITV as the dust settled.

Massa's performance today was from the top-drawer and gave a firm retort to the criticisms and doubts that have been thrown in his direction by commentators - including myself - after his less than convincing display in Australia. Less than seven days later he has demonstrated once again his enormous strength of character. He may appear boyish, almost cherubic at times, but make no mistake about it, the Brazillian is a tough competitor. One of the most impressive facets in his make-up is his ability to learn and learn quickly. This is what turned him from a ragged, accident-prone rookie, to the smooth, quick and confident race-winner that we saw emerge last season. And, I am quite sure that it is this, coupled with an enormous reserve of quiet determination, that has seen him bounce back from the disappointments of a few days ago.

As for his team, well, it was clear that Ferrari had simply failed to 'extract the maximum potential from their package' - as the saying goes - last weekend. This weekend, so far, they have demonstrated the formidable pace they showed throughout the winter and seem to have a definite edge over the McLarens. The silver cars not only lacked a little for pace today, but seem less stable at the rear than their main opposition. This is a definite disadvantage at Sepang, which calls for so many rapid changes of direction in quick succession. Lewis Hamilton seemed slightly less at ease than his team-mate Heikki Kovalainen and much less confident in the car, not only since last weekend, but since Friday afternoon when he topped the timesheets. In the aftermath of qualifying he mused that perhaps they had gone the wrong way on set-up on his side of the garage today. He must hope that they can overcome this tomorrow. What a difference a week makes...

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