Felipe Massa was left to wonder what might have been after two early incidents scuppered a potentially fruitful evening in the Bahrain Grand Prix.
The Brazilian had been due to start from the outside of row three, alongside Williams team-mate Valtteri Bottas, in the 57-lap night race, but failed to join the rest of the 18-car grid – already minus McLaren's Jenson Button – as it set off on the formation lap after the FW37 refused to run cleanly.
“We had a sensor issue so I couldn't fire up the car,” Massa reported later, “Three or four times… but the engine wasn't staying on idle, it was just going off. Then I think they changed the settings when I was pushed into the pit-lane and it worked because the engine switched on. It's a shame… It was just at the start, because I went to the grid with no problem. These things happen, but I've never had it happen before so I don't even know how to explain it...”
Starting from the pit-lane didn't appear to be too much of a handicap for the veteran, as he quickly started to carve through the backmarkers, but his race was more permanently compromised as he caught and passed Lotus' Pastor Maldonado early in his fightback.
“To be honest, I had a good first three or four laps as I was passing cars,” Massa confirmed, “Then I was in front of Maldonado… I don't know what he did to be honest, but he lost his braking point in corner four and hit my back. He broke a good part of the diffuser and, from that lap to the end of the race, I had no stability at the rear and was suffering a lot.”
With the lack of grip, the Williams began eating its tyres and, having only stopped for his first change on lap ten, Massa and the team decided to gamble in a bid to salvage something from a race that promised much before the start. Switching to a set of new medium Pirellis on lap 24 was asking a lot of the rubber on the most abrasive surface of the season but, according to the Brazilian, was the only option.
“It was the only risk [we could take] to see if we could get more points,” he said, “but really, if I had [another] pit-stop, I don't know if I would have got more points. It was big damage, and I was using the tyre so quickly, the degradation was massive. It was a race to finish in the good points, even with the problem I had at the start. I don't know if it was possible to be in front of [Daniel] Ricciardo or not, so I would say top seven [was possible without Maldonado incident], maybe in the best condition top six…
“Valtteri did a good race and we had the same car so, maybe, I could have been fighting there, in that group. Unfortunately, I was not fighting with the right cars and it's impossible to go back and say 'if I did this, if I did that...'. It was just a bad day for me.
Massa's plight was made all the more galling with team-mate Bottas claiming a surprise fourth place, but both drivers agree that Williams needs to get on top of its tyre wear issue.
“We try everything we can on the set-up but we don't save the tyres,” Massa reflected, “What Mercedes was doing before and what Mercedes was doing last year, it is similar – it's just Ferrari that has made a big step. They have a very special way of using the tyres – it's impressive... For sure, we need to work, we need to understand this issue as it will definitely be an improvement for our car, but we are working on it.”