Two years ago at the Hungaroring, Felipe Massa's career – and even his life, for a short while – hung in the balance. Fast forward to the summer of 2011, and the Ferrari star is in 'optimistic' mood heading into a race in which he has yet to finish up on the podium in F1.
After being struck on the helmet by a stray suspension spring that had flown off the Brawn GP of countryman Rubens Barrichello ahead of him on the track during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, some doubted whether Massa's eyesight would ever be the same, and whether he would be able to return to the F1 cockpit.
Happily, the answer to both of those unknowns turned out to be 'yes', and as he returns to Budapest for the race's 2011 edition, the Brazilian does so buoyed by Ferrari's recent progress. The 30-year-old has claimed three successive fifth-place finishes in the last three outings in Valencia, at Silverstone and at the Nürburgring – and he is convinced that after a stuttering start to proceedings this season, the Scuderia is now finally on the right track back to where it belongs.
“The cold weather [at the Nürburgring] played its part in assessing the level of improvement of the F150º Italia, because normally the low ambient and track temperatures would have been seriously against us in terms of our ability to get the tyres up to the optimal working temperature,” Massa reflected. “However, although we suffered from this problem, more obviously in qualifying, clearly it was not as bad as it was a few races ago – and that is a positive sign.
“In the race, our performance was very good – we ran at a strong pace and the car was competitive. At the first corner, I found myself behind Nico Rosberg and that conditioned my race; it took me a long time to get past, as the Mercedes has excellent straight-line speed and by then, the guys in front had managed to pull away. That was really my main issue on Sunday afternoon, but once I got past him, my pace was excellent and I was able to fight with those ahead of me.
“I had an exciting fight with Sebastian [Vettel], whilst when I was battling with [Mark] Webber, it was at a point where he had new tyres and I was about to come in. The fight with Sebastian went on for much of the race, right down to that final pit-stop on the last lap, where unfortunately we lost out. It was a shame, but we know we still have work to do in improving some elements of the pit-stop, including the wheel-nut itself.
“With a McLaren and a Ferrari finishing ahead of a Red Bull, there are suggestions that if we and McLaren maintain good form, then it might help us in the fight for the championship by taking points from Red Bull. However, even if there are still nine races to go, it's not going to be an easy battle, specifically because Sebastian has such a big lead – but we continue to fight on a race-by-race basis, with the aim of winning as many as possible between now and the finale in Brazil.”
The first opportunity to do so will come this weekend in Hungary. Massa contends that the Prancing Horse is in with a shot at glory around a circuit that should suit the F150º Italia well – and were the 2008 F1 World Championship runner-up to triumph there two years on from his career-threatening accident, it would doubtless be the most emotional victory of his life.
“On current form, we can be optimistic of having another positive weekend,” he mused. “Adding to that feeling is the fact that we will again have the Pirelli soft and super-soft tyres, which we know suit our car best and in Hungary, where we can expect more normal summer weather, the hot temperatures will also be on our side. In addition, our development programme is still ongoing and we will have some minor updates again this weekend, which I hope will make the car even stronger.
“The nature of the Hungaroring track means the race here has sometimes been a bit processional; this year, for sure there will be more overtaking – not by a big amount as the main straight is not so long, but all the same, the DRS will help. Combined with the possibility of tyre degradation in the high temperatures, I think the crowd can expect a good show on Sunday with some interesting strategies to watch and certainly those conditions will suit us, as the F150º Italia is kind to its tyres in terms of degradation.
“Clearly, after what happened two years ago, Budapest and the Hungarian people are an important part of my personal history and once again I plan to meet the people who helped me through that difficult time, both at the track and the hospital. Since the accident, I have a lot of fans there; I don't think they became my fans because of the accident, but rather because I spent some time in Budapest and made a full recovery, which was like a victory for me and the people here felt part of that victory.”