Felipe Massa has sought to take heart from Ferrari's stronger race day performance in last weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix as he heads into this weekend's Chinese Grand Prix, and even if he concedes that Friday practice in Shanghai once again witnessed 'a very fast Red Bull', he insists there is 'no panic' at the Prancing Horse and stresses that 'our situation is not as bad as some might say'.
Having grossly underperformed in the Australian Grand Prix curtain-raiser in Melbourne last month – with the best-placed F150° Italia lagging almost a second-and-a-half shy of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull in qualifying Down Under and Fernando Alonso winding up a distant fourth in the race itself, with Massa even further back in seventh – Ferrari hoped for better in Kuala Lumpur, but qualifying was in truth more of the same.
However, on Sunday at Sepang, both drivers showed rather greater pace, with Massa taking the chequered flag fifth despite suffering a delay in one of his pit-stops due to a belligerent wheel nut, and Alonso challenging former team-mate Lewis Hamilton for the podium before misjudging an overtaking attempt and clipping the rear wheel of the McLaren-Mercedes with his front wing, necessitating an unscheduled extra pit visit that dropped him to sixth.
Still, whilst not evincing Red Bull-beating pace, Massa is confident that the F150° Italia is steadily improving – and that Ferrari's predicament is not as dire as it might on the surface appear.
“So far we have had two grands prix this season, producing the same winner and the same three teams on the podium, while Ferrari has not been part of that,” reflected the Brazilian in his blog for the Scuderia's
official website. “If you are not winning, then of course you are not happy and you try and change the situation – but the facts show that our situation is not as bad as some might say.
“It's true that in qualifying in both races so far, we were not quick enough and in Melbourne, even our race pace was not that impressive. However, in Malaysia our car had the performance on Sunday in the race. That is something we must keep up but in addition – even if this sounds like what we said last year – we need to push hard to improve our car's performance over a single lap in qualifying. Over the winter, there was speculation that qualifying would be less important this year because of an expected increase in overtaking, but so far, we have seen that if you do not start at the front, life is more difficult for you, even if you have good pace.
“[At Sepang] my race was spoilt by a problem at the first pit-stop. The fact that we are definitely going to see more pit-stops per race throughout the season means this is an area of teamwork, driver's role included, that we have to be sure functions perfectly. It highlights the fact that this is a team sport, and while the driver is a very important part of that, so too are the engineers and also the mechanics, this year even more so than before.”
Massa lapped sixth-quickest on the opening day of practice in Shanghai, just over eight tenths adrift of the leading pace, but whilst he admits he does not forecast any discernible progress as such this weekend – and despite Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali, technical director Aldo Costa and assistant technical director and head of racetrack engineering Pat Fry all flying back to base in Maranello this week in a bid to get to the bottom of the F150° Italia's lack of performance – he maintains there is no 'panic'.
“Everyone in the team, back in the factory is pushing particularly hard to improve the car as soon as possible,” the 29-year-old acknowledged, “but it's hard to say how long a job that will be – and of course I hope it will happen very quickly! In China, we have some updates, whereas Turkey in a month's time is when we can realistically expect to bring some significant updates for the car.