the beginning of a new era - part two
25/25 Felipe Massa at Imola in 2005
the beginning of a new era - part one
After spending eight years racing for Ferrari, there was naturally going to be a period of adjustment for Felipe Massa at new team Williams. However, that transition has been made considerably easier by the fact that his 2014 car, the Mercedes-powered FW36, has shown front-running potential in pre-season testing. And, as Massa explains, that’s made him hugely motivated for the year ahead…
Q: So looking at testing, it looks like Williams are going to be right up there. It couldn’t have gone better, could it?
Felipe Massa: What can I say - it was a great feeling. I had a great feeling from the car the first time I drove in Jerez, but also (it was great) how we improved the car to the last test in Bahrain, the way the team was working, how the car was reliable - everything was positive. It’s still difficult to say where we are, we still have to keep our feet on the ground and not to think that we’re better than we think we are. We’re going to see (where we are) next week. But I’m definitely very excited that things can be good for us, that we can have a good start. One of the most important things for the first race is to be competitive, but also to be reliable. We know that is a very important key for the championship.
Q: Are you feeling comfortable in the car? Have you got used to driving such a different machine?
FM: Yeah, I feel comfortable. I enjoy the car. I had so much trouble to understand the car at first, to understand what is the right area for the set-up. I think it was a very good job we did - everything I was saying, they were trying to do. We saw an improvement straight away, from day to day. That gave me a lot of happiness - that everything I was saying, we were doing and we were improving. You feel that the car is different the next day you drive it. When I started driving in Bahrain, and also having looked at what my team mate was doing, I was not so sure that this (test best) lap time was possible. But then with work, with improvement, it was possible. That shows that the car still has a long way to grow. There is still a lot to improve, still a lot to understand. I think it was a good job by the team.
Q: How has it been working with the team, especially in race simulations? Obviously it’s very different this year, both in terms of the information you require and the person you’re working with. Are you happy that when you get to Australia you’ll be able to hit the ground running?
FM: Yeah. I mean it’s not a small change to change from the engineer that you’ve had for so long (Rob Smedley), to a different guy (Andrew Murdoch). But I’m really happy with him - he’s good, he’s intelligent. His accent is not so easy to understand, because he’s also Irish. I’ve never lived in England, so the very English way of talking is sometimes not so easy for me. And there’s also so many different words on the steering wheel compared to what I was using before. But I think it is fine. At the beginning it was really difficult - there were so many things I had to learn and had to get used to, for example the way an English team works, compared to an Italian team. But I think now everything is more automatic and working well. The understanding is much better - everything I want they are doing the way I want, and I think that’s nice.
Q: To expand on your last point, how have you found it going from an English team to an Italian team?
FM: In terms of working with the engineers, there’s not a big difference. When you look at the engineers from Ferrari there are few Italians and many different people around. It’s not so different at Williams - from an engineering point of view, the way the engineers work, the way they think is not so different. But with the mechanics, the atmosphere, the mentality of the team is completely different. Ferrari is very open - you never see a mechanic working quietly. You never see an Italian talk without shaking his hands. With the English they’re very quiet, very correct with the way they talk to you.
Q: Which do you prefer?
FM: Honestly I’m really enjoying it a lot here. I am also very open and Latin, and I’m trying to pass a little bit of the way I am on to the team.
Q: When you agreed to go to Williams, you were very upbeat about the potential, but realistically you were moving to what was on paper the ninth-best team. Now, if testing form is to be believed, you have one of the best cars. You must be surprised that you have moved so far forward, so quickly…
FM: First of all, I’m really happy with my choice. When I was looking for a team with which to race, I checked so many things. I used my brain a lot - I tried to speak as many people as possible and understand so many things. Many people said Mercedes was in front and doing a great job with the engine. I think that was in my mind - that I wanted to race with a Mercedes engine. Secondly, so many teams I was talking to were losing so many people. You know, you hear many things about people at certain teams not getting their salary. When I spoke to Williams for the first time, I sensed a different atmosphere, a different way of thinking. I saw that it was a team that wanted to grow, wanted to get back to where they were in the past. They were going to get some new people. I felt a very warm welcome, and I think that was another point. When I went to the factory for the first time, I thought: ‘that’s what I want to do.’ When I drove for the first time with the team, it gave me a lot of happiness. There was also relief that maybe the team I chose was the right one compared to the others that it was possible to race for.
Q: You seem very happy - do you feel more relaxed at Williams and perhaps under a little less pressure than when you were at Ferrari? And if so, do you think that will reflect in your results?
FM: I think so. I think the pressure is definitely less. You always have pressure, especially if you’re competitive - then it’ll always be high - but I think the way you feel the pressure is different. Ferrari is definitely the most famous team in Formula One, so I think the pressure is more. I feel relaxed (here), I feel a lot of respect from the people inside the team. I’m happy.
Q: Will that happiness have an effect on your driving?
FM: Maybe, I don’t know. Maybe the happier you are, it helps in your work. Maybe when I was not so happy the results did not come for whatever reason. I think for sure it has something to do with it.
Q: Obviously losing a drive with Ferrari is never usually a good thing, but now looking at where you are - in a team with which you’re happy - does it feel like a positive rather than a negative?
FM: Yeah, I feel good. It was the right time to change. Everything is new for everybody. Everybody starts from zero so I think it’s the right time to change. I think I needed this change. I think it gives me a new challenge, to start again with new people. It gives you some extra motivation.
Q: We’ve seen from testing that the Mercedes-powered cars look to be very competitive. Several teams have identified Williams as being very strong, but do you think you can be podium challengers?
FM: I think honestly, if you ask me which team is at the front, I’d say Mercedes. I think they’re at the front, but we’ll see. At the end of qualifying, when everyone is on the same fuel, same tyres, you’ll understand where you are compared to the others. But it’s not just performance - reliability will be part of the game. You have so many other teams that I think will be there fighting - maybe McLaren will be there fighting, maybe Ferrari will be there fighting, maybe Red Bull. We don’t know where Red Bull are because they didn’t really run - they were always in the garage. But you can’t forget Red Bull - they know how to build a quick car and to be competitive. I think when they fix the problems they have, they’re going to be there. Maybe tomorrow Red Bull or Lotus is at the front and no one would have expected it. It’s too early to say at the moment - things can change very quickly. I’m just happy to be driving the coolest looking car!