2007 Bahrain Grand Prix
: Bahrain GP Highlight: We Hate You Massa…We Love You Massa By Jeremy McMullen
In a race filled with highlights, Massa's drive of dominance is the most impressive and poignant story to have surfaced from the Bahrain grand prix. It is uncertain whether he was motivated out of a desire to kiss and make up or to snub his detractors. But one thing is certain, Massa's drive at the Bahrain GP has made all things right again with the Ferrari fans and Italian press…for now. Will the love continue? Did Massa potentially set himself up for a fall-out?
Pick your analogy: 'Being roasted over a roaring fire', or, 'Standing before a firing squad'. Whichever one chosen would have adequately described the position Felipe Massa found himself coming into the Bahrain grand prix. 'Throwing away' victory in the Malaysian grand prix made him enemy number one amongst Ferrari faithful. Massa had to do something to change that relationship. Massa had to do something that eased the call for his head. Bahrain was the opportunity presented and Felipe took advantage.
Felipe's best practice times were rather unassuming. While he was near the top he never was the 'one' to beat out or apparently worry about. In fact, it is doubtless that some thought Massa would play it safe and look for a good result. Sure he would go for a win, but a high finish in the points would have seemed of more importance. Any such thoughts changed in qualifying. In the first round of knock-out qualifying Massa topped the charts. He topped the charts again in the second round and would go on to take pole in the third round with a time some .300+seconds faster than Hamilton in second.
Massa's get away from the grid at the start was very good. This allowed the Brazilian to be first into the all-important turn one. That meant Felipe had clear track in front of him and he took advantage of it. Felipe pulled away with Hamilton in tow. All throughout the first stint Massa brought the lap times down while being smooth behind the wheel, not at all looking like a man under pressure.
The Ferrari team performed well giving Felipe quick, clean stops. This kept their man up front once all the pit stops cycled through. Hamilton seemed to go off pace in the second stint and this allowed Massa to further stretch his lead. After Massa's final stop, the gap between him and Lewis was large enough that Felipe seemed to back off in order to preserve the car to reach the finish. Because Massa backed off it is hard to fully realize the dominance of the Ferrari driver by the finishing times. Yet, it was clear. Only a failure of Massa's car would have allowed Lewis to achieve his first win in Formula One.
Massa's performance may have been too good; prime for a trap. The Ferrari faithful have come to expect the re-emergence of the Schumacher-style era. From 2001-2004 Ferrari achieved unrivaled success. This led the Ferrari fans to get used to complete domination. Renault's performance over the last couple of years has been viewed more as an exception and nowhere near the rule. And given McLaren-Mercedes' struggles last year it was undoubtedly presumed Ferrari would rise again. To the fans wearing red, Alonso's departure from Renault meant the two-time constructors champs would struggle. The Australian grand prix seemed to prove that. The other assumption was that while McLaren-Mercedes now had the services of the two-time champion Alonso the car's overall performance was still lacking compared to that of Ferrari. Again, it would appear that thought too was confirmed during the race in Australia given the fact both Alonso and Hamilton finished well behind Raikkonen. Given this information Ferrari fans undoubtedly thought the season was all but a sure lock. All seemed right again in the world.
Therefore, however, when Felipe threw his car off at turn four in Malaysia, the Ferrari fans saw a mistake by a driver with the dominant car—a sure win thrown away. It was bad enough that Felipe lost positions starting from the pole, but in no way, in the minds of Ferrari fans, did the situation warrant Massa's bold attempt, and especially against a rookie. Inevitably, all that was seen was a mistake unlike what Ferrari fans had grown accustomed with Schumacher behind the wheel. But just like the last two years of Schumacher's career, Ferrari drivers actually have to race for spots and for wins again. They aren't just happening anymore. This potential ignorance of the diehard Prancing Horse fans can come back to haunt Massa.
So while Massa's stamp of dominance on the Bahrain grand prix restored relations and led the Ferrari faithful to sing his praises, all will have to wait and see if this dominant display ends up hurting Massa in the end. There is no nostalgia feeling at Ferrari anymore since Michael Schumacher came to drive for the team. And while the drive to win must be paramount, this win or die mentality can lead fans to either want to either kiss the driver with their *** or with their fist. So while Felipe thought the pressure was off his back, it may have only now come to be on him because of his impressive win. Such is life as a driver at Ferrari.