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Massa v. Hamilton

Formula 1’s become full of clichés this season, and several of them are from the list of reasons behind Lewis Hamilton’s apparent drop in form. One of those is his multiple close encounters (some of them beyond close) with Felipe Massa’s Ferrari; they’ve made contact at the races of Monaco, Singapore, Suzuka and India so far in 2011.

To my mind there are two main reasons for their coming-togethers;

  1. Hamilton has been out of position on the race-track
  2. Massa is simply difficult to pass

Lewis, for whatever reason, has been further down the pack in each of these races. In Monaco he qualified ninth and was also involved in a collision with Pastor Maldonado’s Williams (and they’ve since collided again as well, in qualifying for Belgium) before his incident with Massa at the hairpin. In Singapore he started fourth but dropped down to eighth as the race got underway. In Suzuka Hamilton was off-form all weekend and didn’t qualify as high as he expected to. In India the McLaren driver was hit with a three-place grid penalty for ignoring yellow flags in practice.

Felipe Massa, on the other hand, is in a very different situation. He’s very much the number two driver at Ferrari following Fernando Alonso’s arrival at the Italian team; being all but barged out of the way in a race for the pit lane by Alonso in China 2009 and then being told that ‘Fernando is faster than you’ by his team in Germany 2010. He’s currently under immense pressure to prove himself worth retaining when his contract ends at the end of 2012. This is a frustrated driver fighting for his career.

My second point is that Massa is also difficult to pass. He always has been, but learnt a few tricks under the tuition of Michael Schumacher. No other two drivers manage so well to put another driver into a position where, when trying to overtake, they find their line inevitably disappearing into either a sidepod or off the side of the track. The piece of tarmac that they’re using becomes an ever thinning wedge shape. Massa’s had to employ these tactics more and more this year, and it started with Jenson Button in Australia…

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