How on earth did that happen? It looks like he had a fair slice of misfortune, but also missed crucial opportunities to help himself.
After being fastest in final practice Felipe Massa hit trouble in the second session of qualifying, when he was knocked out. He failed to set a fast enough lap for the top ten on his first effort after making a mistake at the final corner.
That meant he would need to do a second flying lap – which was unusual, as we have been used to seeing the McLarens and Ferraris only need one flying lap to progress through the second stage of qualifying this year.
Unfortunately for Massa the team sent him out with too little fuel and had to wheel him back to the garage. But on his second run he struggled with low tyre temperatures (possibly caused by the delay) and failed to improve his time.
That at least gave him the option of running whatever strategy he chose and the team decided to give him a heavy load of fuel. That could have paid dividends in the event of an early safety car period, and it meant he wasn’t under too much pressure to overtake lots of cars on the track.
However in order to make the best use of the strategy he at least needed to be up among the fastest runners who were running a similar long first stint. But at the start he slipped even further back – partly due to starting on the dirty side of the grid, but he also ran wide at turn four allowing Takuma Sato past.
Stuck behind Sato he lost ground to the leaders at a tremendous rate:
Lap 5 – 24.7s behind
Lap 7 – 32.2s
Lap 10 – 42.5s
Lap 13 – 52.3s
Sato finally made his pit stop on lap 33 but Massa wasn’t able to go much further – he made his first stop four laps later. Rather than burden him with another heavy fuel load Ferrari elected to put him on a two stop strategy with the softer compound tyres that should have given him extra speed.
Unfortunately for Massa (or perhaps owing to Ferrari failing to keep an eye on the relevant gaps) he emerged from the pits just in front of leaders Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa. He began to edge away from them but the stewards elected to show him the blue flags forcing him to slow and let the leaders past on lap 40.
This was a critical blow – and a deeply ironic one, as Hamilton’s race at the N??rburgring two weeks ago was spoiled in a similar way when he was lapped by Massa.
Massa was back into the pits on lap 51 – one lap after Hamilton – which relegated him to 13th. In the later laps he was in a three-way battle for 12th with Giancarlo Fisichella in front of him and Alexander Wurz behind.
Massa was no more able to pass Fisichella than Raikkonen was to pass Hamilton – but Massa’s quarry was not driving a McLaren.
Although Massa was unlucky, it seems again that his Achilles’ Heel is race craft. Fernando Alonso started from sixth and passed both Mark Webber and Robert Kubica on the track. Massa wasn’t able to pass Sato in a Super Aguri, who was only fuelled four laps lighter than he was.
Massa was served a double helping of misfortune – but he could have done more to get himself out of trouble. He’s now 21 points behind Hamilton in the championship – a major challenge with six races left to go.
Photo: Ferrari Media