Felipe Massa has revealed his delight at having notched up two consecutive podium finishes in F1 2010 courtesy of a doggedly determined third place in today's Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne – by some margin, his best start to a campaign in his eight-year career in the top flight.
For the past two seasons, the Brazilian has failed to score at all in the opening two races, whilst seven points in 2007 was his previous best. Under the previous scoring system, Massa would currently have 14 points – twice as many as ever before – and given his reputation for starting off slowly before coming on increasingly strong as the year progresses, his rivals perhaps ought to be very worried indeed.
Far from a straightforward afternoon's work, the Ferrari star found himself struggling for grip for much of the race after a lightning getaway at the start had vaulted him past team-mate Fernando Alonso, defending world champion Jenson Button and front row-sitter Mark Webber to snatch second place behind the leading Red Bull Racing of Sebastian Vettel.
Whilst later unable to live with the pace of race-winner Button, nonetheless Massa produced a gritty display of defensive driving to wind up on the rostrum when the chequered flag came down – having had to stave off the likes of Alonso, Webber and Lewis Hamilton in order to do so. Pace-wise, the Paulista's car probably did not deserve to be that far up the order – that it was spoke volumes about the performance of the man inside its cockpit.
“I am very happy with this result, for myself and for the team,” enthused the man who had failed to finish five of the seven previous Australian Grands Prix he had begun. “Given everything that happened – rain at the start, the safety car, the switch to slick tyres when the track was still very slippery – we did a great job. The key to getting on the podium was the start. I managed not to spin the wheels, while other drivers struggled for grip and I managed to move up to second – that was fantastic and I was really happy with that.
“Then I lost some places in the early stages, when I had a few problems with grip and made a couple of mistakes on the track, but thanks to the strategy, I then managed to make up some. The team did a fantastic job in not asking me to stop [again] – that was fantastic for the result at the end. I was able to close on [Robert] Kubica but I never had a real chance of passing him, while behind me Fernando got very close on more than one occasion, making the most of a few errors.
“I was a bit in trouble because I had problems with the tyres for some laps, but then when the tyres began to get a bit more used the grip improved. That's really important to understand for the next tracks, but I think the spectators in the grandstands and in front of their TV screens had fun today – you could hardly call it boring!
“I think it was a great result for the team – to finish third and fourth and bring more points home maybe than other teams I think is very positive – and for me, a second and a third is really, really good for the beginning of the season. I have never been very lucky here and in the past, I have often struggled in the early part of the season – so these points are very important.”
Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali also praised Massa's effort, even if the Scuderia's
chief track engineer Chris Dyer reflected that the 28-year-old's pace had been 'probably not 100 per cent today'.
“We can be satisfied with this result,” affirmed the Italian. At the end of an incident-packed race we managed to get [Massa] onto the podium. Felipe got a really good start, which formed the basis of his final result; he had a difficult weekend, and I am sure this second consecutive podium is pleasing for him.
“Reliability, however is the key factor, as we saw again today. In terms of the championship, today's result is very positive – those who are our strongest competitors at the moment picked up just a few points, and even when compared to other drivers, we have extended our lead. Now we must remain focussed and prepare as well as possible for next week's race in Malaysia, where we will again find different conditions to those we have experienced in the first two grands prix.”