Whilst admitting that he is pleased Ferrari has entered the mid-summer F1 break back on the pace and back in the hunt, still Felipe Massa fears Red Bull Racing could just prove to be too far out-of-reach for any
of its rivals to stop over the remainder of the 2010 world championship campaign.
Having controversially handed German Grand Prix glory to team-mate Fernando Alonso on a plate – an indiscretion that re-opened the age-old debate about team orders in the sport and earned the Scuderia
a £100,000 fine and possibly worse in front of the FIA's World Motor Sport Council (WMSC) in Paris early next month [see separate story – click here
] – Massa added to his Hockenheim runner-up spoils last weekend with a solid fourth place in Hungary, meaning he has tallied more points in the last two races than he had managed in the preceding seven.
That has lifted the Brazilian to sixth spot in the drivers' standings, only one position behind Alonso albeit widely deemed to be out of the title fight at 44 points adrift of the Spaniard. Nonetheless, having since returned to his homeland after what he described as 'one of the busiest months I can remember in my time in F1', Massa confessed that he is encouraged that Ferrari is seemingly 'returning to the form that we expect'.
“I think the Hungarian race result was about the best we could have hoped for, for several reasons – the pace of the Red Bulls, the fact that the track is well-known for not providing any overtaking opportunities and finally the fact that I had a bit of bad luck in losing a place to Lewis [Hamilton] at the pit-stop, when the safety car came out,” the 29-year-old mused. “The luck swung back my way later on, though, when Lewis had an issue with his car and had to retire, which put me back to what you could call the 'normal' position of fourth, which is where I had started from on the grid.
“At the time, we opted for a double pit-stop, with me coming in after Fernando, so why did we do this, instead of doing what the winner Mark Webber did and just keeping going on the soft tyres for longer? What Webber did was right, but only because of the pace he had in his car which allowed him to build up enough of a lead to pit without losing first place. This was the only reason, and it would not have worked for us.
“Our double pit-stop worked perfectly, because when I arrived in the garage, Fernando had already left and I only lost the place to Lewis because that can sometimes happen in the pits. Even with the double pit-stop, I had the chance to fight for my position. To be honest, it was the right strategic decision.
“In Germany, we seemed to have the fastest car and just a few days later, Red Bull were in a different league to all the other teams. They have nearly always been fastest, apart from maybe in Bahrain and then Hockenheim. It is mainly related to the nature of the track. In Germany we and they qualified in much the same time and then we were quicker in the race, but in Hungary they were 1.2 seconds faster, which suggests to me that in Hockenheim they underperformed.”
If Massa's contention is accurate, Ferrari and McLaren-Mercedes have much work to do in order to play catch-up over the remaining seven grands prix of the campaign – but even if he was deprived of a rightful victory in Germany, in Hungary the Paulista arguably scored an altogether greater triumph by betraying no ill-effects whatsoever twelve months on from the accident there that some had feared would leave him unable to ever race again.
“Budapest was an important weekend for me on a personal level,” the eleven-time grand prix-winner reflected. “Going back there after what happened a year ago and meeting the people in the circuit medical centre, who did such a fantastic job of getting me out of the car, in the ambulance and then into the helicopter was a great feeling.
“On Thursday I had dinner with the surgeon who operated on me and did an excellent job, and all of this was something really special in my life. On-track, I never thought about it when I was going through that corner, although I appreciated seeing the banners that some of the fans had in the grandstands with messages like 'Welcome Back Felipe'. That was a nice gesture.
“Now we have a long break, which means three weekends without racing – and even though the momentum has picked up for Ferrari in the last couple of weeks, I am happy to have this pause. It is important for us drivers to have a rest after such a busy schedule in recent weeks, and it is especially important for everyone in the team, who have worked so hard.”