Felipe Massa was a lot happier after the Jerez test this year than he was last year
A year earlier, the start of the Jerez test had been a bit of a nightmare, despite Ferrari designer Nicolas Tombazis’s Day One enthusiasm: “I think any winter is immensely hard work, so to say now that we are at a good point before Australia would be a bit arrogant from our point. We need to do a lot of work, but we think we are at a good point compared to what we are expecting on this first day.”
Having driven the car for 69 laps and finished 3.1 seconds behind a fastest Kimi Raikkonen, Massa wasn’t so sure. By Day Two of the 2012 test, when he had completed another 95 laps, 1.8 seconds behind the fastest time of Michael Schumacher, Felipe was beginning to have his doubts.
“Actually there is a lot of work to do,” said the Brazilian. “It is a brand new car and it is not a car that we had in the last year - even at the start. It is a car that needs a lot more work, and a lot more things to try as well. Today I did so many laps, just trying different things on the car. It is a lot of work, for sure.”
Such are the unknown parameters of testing that Fernando Alonso was able to put in the fastest time of the day on Day Four of the 2012 test, (the second fastest time of the week) yet in Australia he could only qualify in 12th and Massa was back in 16th reflecting the true pace of the car.
Alonso clearly didn’t have as tough a time with the progressive design of the F2012 and its pull-rod suspension because he was a second faster than Massa around Albert Park on the Saturday last year
This year Fernando decided to skip the Jerez test and join in the programme at Barcelona where teams will get a real sense of where they are compared to their 2012 cars, but already it looks as though Massa is feeling confident in the car.
“I think if you compare to last year it is a completely different planet. Last year we were struggling a lot to drive the car. It was tricky to keep the car on the track, so this year the base on the car is completely different to last year. The car is much more balanced. I felt a good direction on the rear of the car as well, with traction. This is a track that is very difficult on the rear, degradation is very high. I would say that the difference to last year is huge.”
Although the variables in testing make it hard to give accurate predictions - for example last year on Day 2 in Jerez, Jenson Button was two seconds off the pace and slower than Massa, yet McLaren had the quickest car in Melbourne - one generally held belief is that the top cars are going to be a lot closer this year.
That makes intra-team battles that much more significant. Massa has said he believes that Ferrari will back him for a Championship campaign in 2013 and that he won’t be consigned to playing a support role. Asked at the Wrooom event in January if he would help Felipe, Fernando duly said the right thing.
“Sure, it is not the first time I have helped him and surely it will not be the last.” Though he was quick to add on the Maranello party line: “We help each other continuously, for the good of Ferrari.”
“Felipe is one of the best drivers in the world. I have been repeating this for three years, and at times people look surprised when I say this during press conferences. “At the end of the 2012 season people realised he is one of the best in the world. These last few seasons there was a gap that I never had in the past, and points wise it was something strange, because usually we should have been on a more equal level as far as points are concerned.”
What will help Felipe’s campaign this year is a good start in Australia. Yet in three seasons he has yet to outqualify Alonso around Albert Park. And last year Fernando was very strong in Malaysia, winning the race against the odds and overturning expectation along the way.
Felipe’s confidence is back and the new car is obviously showing a correlation between the wind tunnel results (albeit Toyota’s wind tunnel) and the track performance, something that wasn’t happening last year. What he needs to do now is get a great start to his championship and then we really should have two contenders from Ferrari in 2013.