Felipe Massa risks upsetting some of the sport's traditionalists by claiming that the Monaco Grand Prix – widely held aloft as the jewel in F1's glittering crown – is 'just another race', but following his disappointing exit from last weekend's Spanish Grand Prix, it is assuredly one in which he will wish to do well.
Whilst Ferrari team-mate Fernando Alonso stole the headlines and the plaudits for his extraordinary performance to vault into the lead from fourth on the starting grid and go on to stay in front until the second round of pit-stops in front of his adoring home fans in Barcelona – before ultimately and perhaps inevitably slipping down the order to an eventual fifth-place finish – Massa was rather more anonymous. Initially doing battle with the two Mercedes', the Brazilian later fell to the foot of the top ten and eventually retired just nine laps from the chequered flag with gearbox woes, the Scuderia's
first DNF of the 2011 campaign.
“We had hoped to do much better than this in performance terms,” the 30-year-old wrote in his blog for Ferrari's official website, “and also I suffered our first technical failure of the season. We had expected our main rivals to be strong in Barcelona, given the fact that our car is not quite as efficient as theirs in terms of aerodynamic downforce; however, what we had not expected was to suffer so much on the new hard-compound tyre that Pirelli had introduced for this race.
“We had already found life difficult on the original version of the hard, and we had seen that we struggled a bit more than the others on these. Then with these new hards, we discovered we were having an even tougher time to get them to work properly, and I would say we lost two or two-and-a-half seconds when compared to our lap times on the soft.
“You could see the effect clearly in the race; myself and Fernando were both able to fight at first, with him doing better than me as he was actually at the front thanks to his start, while I was fighting with the Mercedes guys, passing them to move up to sixth – but after that, once I fitted the hard tyres, it was almost impossible to drive the car. I ended up losing all the places I had gained, then I had a spin and eventually with a few laps to go, I had to park the car at the side of the track as I could not select any gears.
“Meanwhile, Fernando went from leading the race to being one lap down within the space of about 40 laps, which is an unbelievable situation. I would say that in Spain, it looked as though Red Bull and McLaren were the only teams able to exploit the hard tyres properly.
“Staying on the subject of tyres, starting with free practice this Thursday in Monaco, we begin a run of three grands prix using Pirelli's soft and super-soft, and that should work better for us. They will definitely suit the characteristics of our car, which is a positive factor.
“We have seen this year that the biggest factor when it comes to passing another car is the tyres and we will have overtaking this year – even in Monaco – because of that. When a car in front of you is struggling with worn tyres, it will have very poor traction and even in places such as the exit to the chicane after the tunnel, if you don't have traction, you will lose position before Tabac. I believe degradation will play a significant role on this track.”
Massa has twice finished up on the rostrum around the narrow, tortuous streets of the glamorous Principality and three years ago stormed to pole position there, but he has never been considered a true Monaco specialist – and that perhaps explains his general lack of passion for a race that brings most of his rivals out in bursts of childlike enthusiasm.
“I enjoy the whole Monaco weekend and it is an important event on the calendar, but when I'm there, I don't walk to the track in the morning thinking about it being the most famous motor race in the world,” revealed the 2008 F1 World Championship runner-up. “It's another race to concentrate on, and it has a unique challenge because of the track itself – nothing compares, because even if Singapore comes close, that track is much bigger – but Monaco is just another race where you have to work hard and try to do your best.
“It's nice to be home and I'm very lucky as I think I'm one of the few drivers to have two real home races, not just races that take place in the country you come from. Both here and in São Paulo, I actually get to sleep in my own bed in my own home and then have a short trip to the track. It's another very nice aspect of this weekend, during which I hope we can make up for the disappointment of Spain. At least we don't have long to wait to be on-track again!”