Felipe Massa went some way to laying to rest the ghosts of the past few seasons, where he has struggled to match Fernando Alonso through the first few races, with fourth place in the Australian Grand Prix, and is confident that his rediscovered form can continue in Malaysia this weekend.
The Brazilian has out-qualified Alonso at each of the last three races, although results have not necessarily gone his way on Sunday, and he was a contender for the podium in Melbourne until an ill-timed pit-stop not only dropped him back, but also behind his team-mate, who he had been leading for the first half of the race. The reason for his ability to match Alonso at this point in the season is clear to Massa, who has found himself under pressure to perform after slow starts to the past few seasons.
“The car is much better and we have already showed throughout the Australian weekend - practice, qualifying and the race - that it is more competitive than last year,” he commented, “The car is ten times better and I feel happy and more comfortable than I did at this time last year, when I struggled to understand the car. This year, I can be much more consistent and the car is easier to drive, which is pretty good for the team and also for me.”
Like Scuderia team principal Stefano Domenicali, it is Massa's perception that Red Bull continues to have an edge when it come to out-and-out speed, but the Brazilian is equally confident that the F138 is easier on its tyres come raceday.
“Remember, in qualifying, we were one second slower, but track conditions were not consistent, so it is hard to judge where we really are,” he mused, “The situation could be completely different at [Sepang], so we need to wait and see. Maybe we will have a clearer picture of what is really the gap between us and the others in qualifying, either negative or positive.
“In the [Australian] race, our pace was excellent, maybe the best, when our tyres were in good shape. Our level of tyre degradation was higher than [race winner] Kimi [Raikkonen]'s, but it was reasonable when compared to the other cars and that is definitely positive.
“Overall, Australia went well for us, [but] we need to make sure we progress race by race now. It is true we had a good race pace when compared to the Red Bull, after it had been quicker than us on Saturday, but we need to work to get better in both qualifying and the race. This will be an important weekend to understand as much as possible about the car and the tyres.”