Felipe Massa took Ferrari's second consecutive sixth-place finish in the 2009 Formula 1 World Championship in the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, in so doing underlining the significant step forward that the Scuderia
has made this weekend – but the reliability issues and operational failures that have blighted the team's early-season efforts remain.
Having qualified a strong fourth under the Catalan sun with a healthy fuel load on-board his scarlet F60, Massa was touted as the danger man when the lights went out to signal the start of the race by dint of his KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) technology providing him with an extra 80bhp over his immediate rivals off the line.
The Brazilian did indeed make a gain, but it was only of one position as he bravely forced his way past the Red Bull Racing of front row starter Sebastian Vettel down the straight, and from thereon in the 2008 world championship runner-up would go on to frustrate Vettel and team-mate Mark Webber's intentions for the entirety of the first two stints.
With not enough fuel having gone into his car at his second pit-stop, however, Massa found himself having to defend against the young German in the closing stages whilst at the same time keeping an eye on his consumption, with messages from the pit wall warning him that unless he backed off he may not even make the chequered flag.
Reluctantly letting Vettel go, the 28-year-old's drop-off in pace in the closing laps also permitted Fernando Alonso in the Renault to sweep by into fifth, and very nearly allowed Nick Heidfeld to follow suit for BMW-Sauber. Sixth spot in the final reckoning may have marked Massa's first points of the campaign, but given his pace – setting the third-fastest lap of the race behind the unbeatable Brawn duo – it fell somewhat short of what might have been...
“It's a real shame to have lost two places in the final stages,” lamented the São Paulo native, “even if we've finally made it to the scoreboard. We knew we couldn't match the pace of the Brawns, but we had managed to get ahead of the Red Bulls and – but for the fuel problem – I could have certainly stayed ahead of Vettel and Alonso.
“The final part of the race was a pain. I was already struggling on the harder tyres and then I had to try and save fuel as much as possible, while at the same time staying ahead of Vettel. Then the team told me that if I wanted to make it to the finish, I would have to let Vettel by and slow down a lot; if I had made another pit-stop I would have finished out of the points. Today, the car's pace on the softer tyre was reasonably good, even if we're still lacking a few tenths, but at least we are back to fighting for the top places.”
On the positive side, Massa did fare better than team-mate Kimi Raikkonen, the man who had belatedly got Ferrari off the mark this year four races into the season in Bahrain a fortnight ago. The Finnish former world champion enjoyed a tight battle with Heidfeld in the lower reaches of the top ten early on as he endeavoured to atone for the catastrophic qualifying misjudgement that had left him down in 16th place on the grid, but a sudden problem with the hydraulic control of the accelerator in his car on lap 18 prematurely ended his chances of making it back-to-back points finishes at the scene of his last grand prix victory twelve long months ago.
“I am very unhappy because I could have finished in the points,” the 29-year-old rued. “Unfortunately, I had a hydraulic problem linked to the control of the accelerator which meant I had to retire. At the start I managed to make up a few places, but then I found myself behind Heidfeld's BMW.