Felipe Massa has leapt to the defence of Ferrari after the Scuderia
ended up empty-handed for the second time in as many Formula 1 weekends in 2009 in the Malaysian Grand Prix – insisting the team has not 'suddenly become stupid' and vowing to 'tackle the situation with a different approach'.
Following the catastrophic error that led to Massa being eliminated in the very first part of qualifying in Sepang, Ferrari must have feared that matters could scarcely have got any worse on race day, but get worse they did – and this time Kimi Raikkonen was the unwitting victim.
After a promising start on a heavy fuel load had hoisted him up into the top six, a subsequent pass on the Renault of Fernando Alonso left the Finn fifth – and looking good for a decent points finish. However, when he came in for his first pit-stop, Ferrari elected to fit wet-weather rubber onto Raikkonen's car when virtually every other driver in the field remained on slicks – and they paid a heavy price.
It rapidly became apparent that – despite the occasional drops of rain threatening to explode into a sudden deluge – the track surface was nowhere near wet enough for the tyres the former F1 World Champion was on, and with lap times more than 20 seconds off the pace, his bolt was shot.
Dropping down the order like a stone, he would be classified 14th when the race was halted prematurely due to the torrential conditions, and even had it re-started again Raikkonen would not have been able to re-launch his challenge, with his second KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) issue of the weekend grounding the #4 scarlet machine in the pit garage.
“We were in a good position at the time of the first pit-stop,” related the 17-time grand prix-winner, “and then we made a mistake, fitting the rain tyres when the rain had yet to fall. That was where my race was pretty much over.
“When the race was halted, the conditions were very difficult. There was so much water on the track and I was struggling to drive the car even in second gear. Clearly we cannot be happy with our start to the season; in Melbourne, I was the one to make a mistake and today it was the team, the result being we find ourselves without any points.”
Massa too was classified outside of the points at the close, albeit only just, in ninth place. The Brazilian similarly lost out in the pits, changing over to intermediates only to see the rain intensify with a vengeance less than a minute later, necessitating an additional stop the very next lap. It had not, the 2008 world championship runner-up reflected, been a stellar performance.
“It was a chaotic race,” he acknowledged, “and it's easy in these conditions to take decisions, which later in hindsight turn out to be wrong. When we fitted the rain tyres, we expected heavy rain to come soon and unfortunately it was just a light shower. Therefore, I came back in to fit intermediates and immediately after that, the downpour arrived. It's a shame, as I could have managed to get into the points.