There’s been a rosy vibe in and around Williams so far this year. A quick car, a well-received title sponsorship deal with the iconic Martini brand, and the welcome addition of Felipe Massa to their ranks has left the Grove-based team brimming with confidence.
With the unwelcome ‘team orders’ debate wading in however, is their time in paradise coming to a premature end?
Felipe Massa’s ignorance in Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix is an intriguing one. The radio call for the Brazilian to let teammate Valterri Bottas past for 7th place, with ten laps to go, has sent the F1 fan community into a frenzy. It wasn’t the order itself, but the resemblance to that message Massa received during his Ferrari days, at the German Grand Prix in 2010; “Fernando is faster than you.”
And we all know what that meant.
It was that order that provided the seed of Massa’s breakdown in relationship with the Prancing Horse. Gone was the exuberant, light-hearted, bouncy, and ultimately quick Brazilian F1 driver – replacing him was a straight-faced, repressed, unhappy, mediocre performer. A mere shadow of his former self.
It’s those events in Germany, and the profound affect it had on Massa, that now threatens to unsettle H.M.S Williams-Martini after such promising start to 2014. OK, so race results haven’t gone to plan, and that’s largely down to rain-affected qualifying sessions and a questionable grid-drop decision by the FIA for Bottas (at least in Malaysia) but the pace, especially in race-trim, is clearly there.
Nonetheless, the post-Malaysia debrief must have brought an unwelcome atmosphere to the team. One that in hindsight, probably matched that of the “Multi-21” fiasco at the same race last season.
So, was Massa justified in his stance? From a team perspective, certainly not. Felipe was holding up a BOTTAS TURBO CHARGE*, and the Finn had the upper hand with his newer Pirellis, and almost certainly would have been in a better position to launch an attack on Jenson Button’s McLaren for 6th. That being said, a big name driver coming into a team halting itself from a state of free fall; can he really be expected to make way for his relatively inexperienced teammate? I’m not so sure.
Felipe Massa personally excused his ignorance by claiming that the superior traction of the McLaren would have meant Bottas wouldn’t have been able to get past regardless. And then there’s always the argument that if Bottas could have indeed overtook Button, he’d have been able to overtake Massa in the first place anyhow. The ifs and buts go on, and will probably continue to do so.
Here’s food for thought: would ‘Felipe Baby’ have yielded if his ole’ buddy Rob Smedley had been the one telling him to back down? If anything, Malaysia has proved that Massa is a reinvented racing driver at Williams. A driver tiresome of the politics and other external interference that ruined his Ferrari career, and which threatened to impact in only his second race with Williams.
However stronger Massa may be though in Williams-clad overalls, his refusal to play devil’s advocate in Malaysia may well point to trouble further down the line for the Brazil-Grove partnership. Only time will tell.
*Badger GP trademarked
Do you have a different take on whether Felipe Massa should have moved aside or not? Let us know in the comments below!