Friday, May 30, 2008


The Showdown

The final instalment of this article on Massa and Raikkonen does a head-to-head comparison of the two Ferrari team-mates in an attempt to get to grips with who is having the upper hand.


Grand Prix Points (click to enlarge)

Massa debuted in the year 2002 for Sauber-Petronas who were strictly a mid-field team. He was then signed up as the test driver of Ferrari for the following season before taking the race seat at Sauber-Petronas again for the 2004 season. He remained with the same team for one more season before parting goodbye to join Ferrari.

Raikkonen too debuted for Sauber-Petronas in the year 2001. However, he was quickly snapped up by a top-team, McLaren, for the 2002 season. He remained with them for five more years before departing to Ferrari.

Massa - Sauber Era

Sauber-Petronas were not in a position to score points consistently and that probably explains the points disparity between him and Raikkonen until the 2005 season. In his racing years at Sauber-Petronas, partnered by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Giancarlo Fisichella and Jacques Villeneuve, Massa was beaten by only Fischella. It is to be noted that Villenueuve was the 1997 World Champion while Frentzen was a very close competitor to Michael Schumacher in the late 90s.

He was often regarded as quick but wild. Rubens Barrichello reportedly threatened Felipe Massa with his laundry bills...!

Massa - Ferrari Era

Massa came to Ferrari and 'learnt' (in his own words) a lot from the 7 times Champ Michael Schumacher. As a consequence, his driving got ever better, culminating in two wins that included his popular home win at Interlagos. Ross Brawn once claimed after the 2006 season that Schumacher had a comfortable performance advantage over Massa throughout the season, even in the later stages where Massa showed himself to be more mature in terms of driving.

When Kimi Raikkonen came to Ferrari, many expected Massa to be blown away. But that didn't happen; at least in the initial stages. The belief stemmed from the fact that Raikkonen was often perceived to be on par with Schumacher, in terms of raw pace, who in turn had the measure of Massa. Massa did however lose out to Raikkonen in the title race. He claims it was down to lady luck. We can only speculate...

The 2008 season sees Massa at his closest ever to his World Champion team-mate. He dominates his team-mate in qualifying and matches him in the number of Grand Prix wins. Why and how exactly, is the question. Is it down to below-par driving by Raikkonen or due to the ever-improving race-craft of Massa? I suspect both the factors play their part in some proportion.

Raikkonen - Sauber/McLaren Era

Raikkonen finished behind Heidfeld (in Sauber) and Coulthard (in McLaren) twice. That's all. Until now he is yet to be beaten by his team-mates, which include the likes of Montoya. He came ever-so-close to the 2003 title, with an year-old car. The consistency was breathtaking for a young driver--he took just one win early in the season but managed to stay in the title hunt by virtue of a zillion podium appearances. The infamous McLaren reliablility cost him the 2005 title. Otherwise, he took 9 wins in his 5 years at McLaren and, if I must add, two missed titles.

Raikkonen - Ferrari Era

Struggling with the switch to Bridgestones early in the season, Raikkonen got his act together in the later stages of the season to take the title. He, however, was beaten time and again by his team-mate and for sure didn't enjoy as much performance advantage over Massa as did Schumacher.

The same trend continues this season too. Massa has had a run of podium finishes, including two wins, that sees him just one point behind Raikkonen in the title race. On Massa's day, Raikkonen looks patchy and the same is true vice-versa. This is one of the reasons why it's getting increasingly difficult to believe Raikkonen will trump Massa fair and square. Even Ross Brawn has expressed his surprise about Massa's up-turn in performance. Again, it's difficult to know if Raikkonen is not at 100% or it's simply that Massa is too good these years. I'm afraid we'll have to wait on that. Lastly, as my pal JS likes to put it down, Massa's favourite tracks are all over. So, now might be the time to gauge his 'true' performance.

Here are some more graphs to ponder over:


Grand Prix Wins (click to enlarge)


Grand Prix Poles (click to enlarge)

My verdict: Massa is not the same Massa of 2006. Raikkonen is probably the same Raikkonen as his previous years. So, a new, constantly evolving Massa stacked against the old, always-the-same Raikkonen is beginning to show its effects.

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