Felipe Massa has brushed off suggestions that Ferrari is the benchmark heading into the 2010 F1 World Championship in just under a fortnight's time – insisting that the Scuderia
'never expects' to enter any campaign with an advantage, and stressing that there is no glory in being the champion of pre-season testing.
Many drivers have opined that the F10 is the car to beat off the back of test sessions at Valencia, Jerez de la Frontera and Barcelona over the past month, with both Massa and double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso leading the way on occasion, and generally looking to have the most consistently competitive machine underneath them over short and long runs alike. The Spaniard has even gone so far as to describe his new scarlet contender as 'the best car he's ever had'.
However, whilst acknowledging that preparations have thus far gone according to plan, Massa – set to return to racing action in the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir in mid-March, having been absent from the starting grid since his life-threatening Hungaroring qualifying accident last July – is adamant that neither he nor Ferrari will be taking anything for granted under the desert sun.
“We did what we had planned to do at the beginning of the month of testing,” the Brazilian affirmed. “We're very happy with the work done at all the tests. We wanted a competitive car, and I think we've achieved our goal. We've reached a good level of reliability, which is very important, and the car is consistent – and that is what we want to start the season.
“It's difficult to say who has worked best. [On the final day of testing] the timesheet said [Lewis] Hamilton, but we're all very close together – it's just tenths of a second. I am very satisfied with the car, [both] when we simulated qualifying and when we drove with lots of fuel on-board.
“We never really expect to have an advantage. We never expect to come to the first race and come to the front and win in an easy way, definitely not – but we expect to have a competitive car, and I think we have. It looks like it will be a tough and competitive championship, as I expected, but we are not here to be the champions of the pre-season. We are here to work on the car and fight for the championship.
“I think we're part of the group who did well in these tests – something you could see on the last day of testing, when many simulated qualifying. I don't agree at all with those who say we're the strongest; I would not say we are the best, but I think we're there in the middle of the competitive teams. We are there fighting. I can't say that we're going to Bahrain to win, but I know we'll fight for it.
“We had several aerodynamic updates [in Barcelona], which improved the car's performance. We now have to continue working in this direction. It's important to be ahead at the end of the year, not now. The same thing is true regarding the car; I have been lucky to be able to drive several very strong Ferrari single-seaters, and if the F10 is the best I've ever driven I'll only know after the race in Abu Dhabi!”
One remaining variable is just how the Bridgestone tyres will perform in the heat of Bahrain and Malaysia – two of the opening three grands prix of the forthcoming campaign – following unusually cold and wet conditions for the majority of testing. It is very much, Massa admits, a journey into the unknown.
“The situation might be a little bit different,” the 28-year-old agreed, “but during these sessions we got a good idea of how the tyres are working this year. Maybe a couple of times it was a little too cold for a certain type of tyre, but we could still collect much useful information, which will help us during the championship.
“Their behaviour will also influence the strategies; if there is lots of wear, maybe there will be more stops, but we'll see that race-by-race. This year, because the fuel aspect has been liberalised, the pit-stops will be even more unpredictable and will influence the results much more.”