FRENCHMAN Romain Grosjean continued his solid return to Grand Prix racing yesterday, by nicking the quickest time in the second day of the Mugello Test.
In much better and consistent conditions than were seen on Tuesday, the Lotus Renault driver lapped around the Italian circuit in 1.21.603 to join the Sauber of Kamui Kobayashi at the top of the timesheets. The two Red Bulls of Mark Webber and Sebastian Vettel were third and fourth fastest as Red Bull look to understand their new car more after Vettel’s recent success in Bahrain.
The test is seen as a major opportunity for many teams to test significant upgrades in packages before next week’s Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona. BBC F1 technical analyst Gary Anderson explained on their website a little bit more about the advanced changes to Ferrari’s package. “Ferrari have tried two different positions of exhaust exit here – the one they have been racing with and the one they had to abandon during pre-season testing because it was overheating the rear tyres. They believe the pre-season testing one is the best, and they have been doing more work on that here.”
Grosjean’s fastest lap came early on in the day and on a harder tyre than the one used by Kobayashi to set his quickest effort. This, along with previous testing form does suggest that some of Lotus’s race performances so far have flattered to deceive in 2012. Michael Schumacher did the most duration, completing 144 laps yesterday for Mercedes GP before departing for a break before Barcelona. Nico Rosberg is expected to be back at the wheel today.
It was a quiet and calmer day after the storms of Tuesday but hydraulic problems for most of the day left Force India in the pits and Paul di Resta largely on the sidelines. Day three has already begun and it will be interesting to see if Lotus can continue their good form today.
DAY 2 TESTING TIMES FROM MUGELLO – TOP TEN
1. Romain Grosjean (Lotus Renault) 1.21.603 – 97 laps
2. Kamui Kobayashi (Sauber Ferrari) 1.21.603 – 87 laps
3. Sebastian Vettel (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.825 – 64 laps
4. Mark Webber (Red Bull Racing Renault) 1.21.997 – 54 laps
5. Felipe Massa (Ferrari) 1.22.257 – 106 laps
6. Jean-Eric Vergne (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.424 – 65 laps
7. Daniel Ricciardo (Scuderia Toro Rosso Ferrari) 1.22.759 – 22 laps
8. Michael Schumacher (Mercedes GP) 1.23.404 – 144 laps
9. Charles Pic (Marussia Cosworth) 1.23.982 – 46 laps
10. Vitaly Petrov (Caterham Renault) 1.24.312 – 112 laps
IT MIGHT only be the second round of the championship this weekend in Malaysia but already, Felipe Massa is under a pile of huge pressure to deliver. The Brazilian’s shambolic performance in last week’s season opener in Melbourne has left his future prospects of staying with Ferrari hanging even more by a thread. On Tuesday, the Italian team announced that a new chassis will be flown to Kuala Lumpur, but is that enough to save the charming Ferrari no.2 from the sack.
From the moment Felipe spun off in the opening practice session, his fate in Albert Park of a mediocre performance was sealed. He never looked comfortable with the F2012, which it has to be said, is proving to be a real handful anyways. Qualifying saw him a distant 16th, four places behind Fernando Alonso. That was despite Alonso spinning out early on in Q2. Although he made an excellent start which saw him upto tenth, Massa quickly fell away from the leading group and spent the majority of the afternoon battling a poor chassis, high tyre wear and probably, his demons on a mental basis.
He was overwhelmed by the likes of Kimi Raikkonen and Kamui Kobayashi and the race ended with an unsavoury tangle involving the Williams of Bruno Senna. When you consider Alonso saved fifth place for the team and was lapping 2-3 seconds a lap quicker on a regular basis, it highlights Massa’s nightmare Down Under. I described his driving performance as akin to a pig on rollerskates! It is a sad and sorry decline for one of F1’s nice guys. Team principal Stefano Domenicalli is still backing his driver though, telling JAonF1; “We need to stay close to Felipe because it’s clear that he’s under pressure. I’ve asked his engineers to analyse the data on the car, also to reassure him.” It means that there can be no excuses this weekend.
Mentally, Massa is driving like Damon Hill did in his final, troubled season in the sport in 1999. The former golden boy of Ferrari has been cast adrift by Alonso’s arrival and moulding the team around the Spaniard’s comforts. The days of Felipe outpacing Raikkonen in their three years together are a distant memory. Has he ever recovered from the radio message below (using clever F1 2010 graphics) whilst leading the German Grand Prix by merit in 2010;
I don’t think he has and Shanghai aside last season, I don’t think he has driven as well as he did that day at Hockenheim. Immediately afterwards, he said he would walkaway from F1 if he was a no.2, having experienced a similar order at Sauber in his debut season, ironically at the same circuit.
Now I don’t know what Felipe Massa thinks about, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a mental note saying ‘it is wrong to beat Alonso.’ It is frustrating, as he can match the best on his day. Since Hockenheim 2010, it has led to those basic errors that littered his first season in 2002 reappearing far too regularly. Don’t forget his attempt to pass cars on the grass on the approach to turn one of the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix? Of course, his high profile incidents with Lewis Hamilton last year have been well documented.
Then, there’s the factor of the crash during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix when Massa was knocked out by a loose spring that had bounced down the road off Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car. He might have scars for the incident, but big knocks can affect a driver. Ralf Schumacher had a similar experience after a testing shunt in 2003 and he never recovered from this shunt, while it took Mika Hakkinen the best part of 18 months to fully recover from his near fatal accident at Adelaide in 1995. Only Massa will know how much the Budapest shunt has affected him.
I do hope that the driver who came within seconds of the 2008 world championship does find some of his old form again. The bare facts are he hasn’t scored a podium since Korea 2010, the longest run a Maranello driver has gone without a podium since Eddie Irvine, 17 races between (1996-1997). We will see whether a new chassis is the solution to Massa’s problems. However, more races like Melbourne and Felipe will be lucky to see the season out, let alone hope for a contract extension.