Felipe Massa has said that he expects to find himself in a battle with both Ferraris during the Australian Grand Prix, but refuses to rule out opposition from a wounded Red Bull team.
The former four-time champions were expected to provide a stiff test for both Williams and Ferrari after pre-season testing, but have so far failed to shine in Melbourne, leaving the battle for row two of the grid – behind the all-conquering Mercedes cars – to F1's old stagers. With the Scuderia rejuvenated by an improved car and the arrival of Sebastian Vettel to partner Kimi Raikkonen, Massa knows that he cannot take his place as 'best of the rest' in qualifying for granted on race day – and even remains wary of the threat from elsewhere.
“For the moment, Ferrari are really strong and have made a big step forward compared to last year, so I am sure, tomorrow, we need to be a bit more worried about Ferrari,” the Brazilian explained, “But we still need to keep open eyes for Red Bull and even for the others.
“I think Red Bull is not really there for the moment, [but] I am sure they will get there because they are really strong. Last year, they finished in front of us and the rules are similar this year, so I am sure they are going to come.”
With Daniil Kvyat missing Q3 after a troubled Saturday, and Daniel Ricciardo not having the pace to live with either Williams or Ferrari, Massa found himself at he head of a four-car group comprising those two teams – and it was a battle he admitted could have gone anyone's way.
“It was a very tricky qualifying, especially when you have four cars fighting for very similar times all the time,” he reflected, “If you see the difference in lap times between me, Sebastian, Kimi and also Valtteri, it's pretty small, but I'm happy, happy that I did a good lap
“It was the best lap of the day, the last one, but it was not so easy. With the wind changing, it is so easy to have the fronts locking in corners, but I didn't have that on this lap so perhaps I just prepared everything for the last try - and it worked and worked pretty well.”
Ferrari's renewed threat makes it hard to draw comparisons with last season, but Massa believes that the latest Williams can produce race performances akin to 2014.
“It will be a big fight tomorrow, with Ferrari especially, and I hope we can do a good job,” he said, “We are really on a similar pace and it won't be an easy race, but I think we are there in the fight and I am really looking forward [to starting] well this season with both cars. I really hope that what happened in the last race of last season we can repeat straight away. That would be great.”
The only downside to Massa's qualifying performance came in the shape of a 1.4secs margin to polewinner Lewis Hamilton, a gap that was bigger than last season. While he admits that the deficit is disappointing, however, the Brazilian is confident that Williams can close the gap with forthcoming development of the FW37.
“For sure, it is not great to see this difference, but we'll keep working, keep fighting, and I hope we can get as close as we can,” he insisted, “If we have the same engine, the difference should be in the car - so I hope we have the same engine!
“We are working to improve the car, working to try and bring as many upgrades and parts, working as close as we can with Mercedes to see if we can get some improvements on the engine as well, so this is definitely just a start. We know how much we improved last year and we need to really repeat the developing we did last year, from the first to last race, but even more intense, working in each layer of the whole team. I'm really looking forward to it if we can do that.”