Felipe Massa was left lamenting what he described as a strategic error at the end of today's Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai – a race that had at one stage looked like yielding a rostrum finish for him, only to culminate in a 'disappointing' sixth position.
Having begun alongside team-mate Fernando Alonso on the third row of the grid, a better start for Massa enabled the Brazilian to move into fifth place on the opening lap, and he would subsequently pass McLaren-Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton prior to the first round of pit visits.
Arguably driving the best he has done since his sight-threatening Hungaroring qualifying accident in the summer of 2009, the 29-year-old maintained a consistent pace and performance throughout, and in the latter part of the race he found himself in second place, just three-and-a-half seconds adrift of leader Sebastian Vettel – yet the closing laps saw him cede positions to Hamilton, Jenson Button, Nico Rosberg and the charging Mark Webber, leaving him a downcast sixth at the chequered flag.
“It's a real shame not managing to finish this race in a better position,” Massa rued, telling Italian journalists immediately after the grand prix that 'it's clear that the others chose their strategy well [and] we didn't' since 'we had good pace at first – I was second – then I lost four places and there was nothing we could do about it'.
“It really seems that, from qualifying to the race, we discover another car – yesterday, we were not competitive, [and] today we fought with the leaders right to the end. Unfortunately, on the hard tyres we could not defend position all the way to the end. Now, it's easy to say that we were not on the right strategy, but we are a team and we take our decisions together. Vettel made the same choice as us, and we had reasonably similar pace.
“Probably we would have finished on the podium [on a three-stopper rather than just two], but we need to look into all the details with the engineers. I am happy with my race; I think it was my best this year, and maybe even the best including last year. We need to work out how to improve the car, especially in qualifying.”
Alonso, meanwhile, displayed little of his team-mate's brio during the race, spending too long tucked up behind the Mercedes Grand Prix of Michael Schumacher and crossing the finish line just seventh with the German right in his wheel tracks, a quarter-of-a-minute behind the sister F150° Italia and outpaced in terms of fastest laps by even the Team Lotus of Jarno Trulli.
“I made a bad start,” recounted the double world champion. “Felipe managed to get past me and a Force India nearly did the same, and then it was a good battle on the opening lap. After the first pit-stop, I lost too much time behind Michael, thus losing touch with the leading group. I found myself fighting him again at the end of the race, with our positions reversed. Once again, it was a good battle, but I would have preferred to have been doing it for a podium finish rather than seventh place.
“Unfortunately, our race pace was too slow and I don't think that a different strategy would have changed anything. I've had better Sundays in my career, but I won't get downhearted or lose confidence. We know we have to improve to get to the front – McLaren and Mercedes have managed it, and there is no reason to think we can't do the same.