Felipe Massa has urged Ferrari's fans not to give up on the team in the wake of its worst start to a Formula 1 campaign in almost three decades – with still no points on the board after the opening three races of 2009, and a potential podium fallen by the wayside in Shanghai at the weekend.
Having qualified a lowly eighth (Kimi Raikkonen) and 13th (Massa) for the Chinese Grand Prix – a race in which last year they had lined up second and third – the Scuderia's
luck did not improve any on Sunday. Both drivers skated off-piste during the initial safety car period before the action proper got underway, and would endure divergent fortunes from thereon in, with Massa's rise roughly mirroring Raikkonen's fall.
The Brazilian, indeed, was the architect of a strong performance, confounding his critics who had said he cannot drive in the wet by mastering the torrential conditions to fight his way up past a number of rivals – his team-mate included – and work his way into third place by the time the safety car appeared for the second time on lap 19 to allow for the debris from the Jarno Trulli/Robert Kubica coming-together to be cleared away.
On a fuel-heavy one-stop strategy, the 2008 world championship runner-up was looking good not only to register his first points of the year, but indeed possibly even a rostrum, travelling as much as three seconds a lap quicker than the sister scarlet machine. And then, just moments later, disaster struck.
“Obviously I'm very disappointed and a bit upset,” the 27-year-old reflected of the electrical problem that brought his charge to a premature conclusion, “but my motivation is still intact. All of us must work together to get out of this situation. The team is united and there is a real will to turn things around as soon as possible. We should quickly be getting some significant aerodynamic developments, but it's true that we also have to sort out as soon as possible our reliability problems, because if we want to win, first we have to finish the races.
“Here, I was in with a good chance of getting on the podium. I was third and lapping at the same times as the leaders, even though I had enough fuel on-board to go for a one-stop. The car was going well, except when running behind the safety car; at those times, there were a few moments when the power seemed to drop. Then, without warning, the accelerator would not work and the car went quiet. I would say to our fans that they should not give up on us, as this is a difficult moment but the championship is still long.”
Raikkonen, for his part, enjoyed spirited tussles with fellow title-winner Lewis Hamilton and Scuderia Toro Rosso rookie Sébastien Buemi early on, but ultimately came off worst on both occasions as he seemed to increasingly struggle in the spray. Despite electing to switch from a two-stop strategy to just one in view of the weather, the Finn complained of grip and power issues throughout, and eventually slid down the order to just tenth spot at the chequered flag, more than 15 seconds shy of the last of the points-scoring positions.
“In the early stages, it wasn't too bad,” the 17-time grand prix-winner revealed, “but then, after my stop, I lost grip from the tyres and I was no longer able to push as hard as I wanted, because it meant the car was sliding a lot. A few times the engine seemed to lose power, especially when I found myself close behind other cars, but then the problem went away on its own.
“Clearly the championship situation looks very difficult – we have made mistakes and we are not quick enough. In Barcelona, when we will have new aero parts, we should be able to pick up some of the grip we are lacking now. I am sure we can be competitive enough to win again, but this work will take time. The team is motivated – I'm sure of that – and we will all do our bit. Now it is easy to criticise, but we know how to turn things around.”