He may only have got as far as the turn one gravel trap in Australia, but Felipe Massa believes that he could be onto a good thing with Williams in 2014.
The Brazilian, who has found a new home in Grove after eight years entrenched in the Ferrari machine, timed his arrival to coincide with perhaps the most competitive-looking Williams for many years, the switch to Mercedes power and time spent designing the FW36 to meet the new-for-204 regulations producing a car that appears the match for almost anything except the latest Mercedes works entry.
Far from seeing out his career at an F1 backwater, Massa now has his sights set on bigger things, an ambition in no way curtailed by his early Melbourne exit. Having started ninth, the veteran was harpooned by an out-of-control Kamui Kobayashi at turn one, but clearly felt that, the way the race panned out, he could have been a contender for silverware.
“I think [a podium was on],” he reflected post-race, “The chance of finishing there was big - and I think too for [team-mate] Valtteri [Bottas] if he did not have his problem with the tyre after hitting the wall. I think maybe he was going to finish fourth - maybe the podium would be difficult, but he was already behind Fernando [Alonso] and I think he was going to pass him for sure. At that stage, he was much quicker….”
Bottas eventually finished sixth on the road, behind Alonso, but was promoted to fifth when Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo was thrown out of the results for a technical infringement. Massa's potential obviously went unfulfilled, but the Brazilian is optimistic enough to suggest that, behind Mercedes, the Grove team is best of the rest.
“I think the car was very good for the race,” he noted, “and I think it is not impossible that it [is the second best car]. McLaren definitely did a good race, finished with both cars [getting] good points, and they are leading the championship, but I would say that it was possible that we could finish with both cars in similar positions to McLaren and maybe we were going to be in first position in the championship!
“Everything is possible now, looking at how we compare to the others. I would say Mercedes is, at the moment, too quick compared to us but, maybe after them, everything is open and we can be there.”
Despite the confidence, however, the Brazilian – like almost every other driver on the grid – believes that there is still a lot to be drawn out of their latest mounts.
“I'm pretty happy with the car, with the job [the team has done] and the performance we had, but there is still a lot to improve this car - a lot,” he claimed, “You are always thinking about worries, about bad things you have in the car, and those bad things are why we lost so many positions in qualifying.
“This car still has a huge margin to improve and I'm really pushing the team very, very hard to improve and go in a direction where i know the car can be better and much more competitive. There is a lot to do but, looking at where we are, I think it is a pretty good start.”
Qualifying is clearly a concern for Massa, who was disappointed not to make greater inroads into the top ten, even though Saturday's session was held in tricky wet conditions.
“The car is definitely more competitive in the race than in qualifying,” he confirmed, “It's not the wet, it's what were missing in the car. In extreme conditions, we suffer much more than the other teams – [on Saturday] I couldn't drive the car and even Valtteri was spinning on the straight, so it's not the wet, it's something else that is making this problem.”
With downforce an area that he hopes the team will look at, Massa is hoping that next weekend's Malaysian Grand Prix will allow him to show the FW36's latent potential.
“Malaysia is also a track where downforce counts, so I don't know how we're going to be in terms of the powerbase, maybe qualifying,” he confessed, “But I'm pretty much certain that we can be competitive. We have a competitive car, and I hope we can anticipate some new pieces [for it] as well.”