x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Massa aching to get to grips with Yas circuit

Forced to watch Abu Dhabi Grand Prix from the stands last year, Ferrari driver is eager to experience capital's track.

Ferrari's Felipe Massa has every intention of lining up on the grid for this year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 14.
Ferrari's Felipe Massa has every intention of lining up on the grid for this year's Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at Yas Marina Circuit on November 14.

Felipe Massa could only watch from the team garage last November as the Ferraris of Kimi Raikkonen and Giancarlo Fisichella rounded off a disappointing season at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, finishing in 14th and 16th place respectively.

Massa had hoped to be fit in time to compete at the season finale at the Yas Marina Circuit after recovering from the head injury he sustained at July's Hungarian Grand Prix, where he was struck by a spring that had fallen from Rubens Barrichello's BrawnGP car. But, in the end, he was forced, under doctors' orders, to sit and watch from the sidelines. Things have changed considerably for Massa since then.

For starters, he became a father for the first time four weeks later, to a son called Felipinho. In addition, he is back in action for Ferrari. However, he is already looking forward to the end of the season and not just because of his apparent struggles to match Fernando Alonso, his Ferrari teammate, for pace in the opening six races of 2010, but to finally get a chance to compete at the season-ending race in the UAE capital.

"I really love the circuit - it's fantastic - and it was difficult to just be there to watch last season," says the Brazilian. "It's the worst feeling as a driver. I felt ready to drive there but unfortunately the doctors said the accident meant I still couldn't. "Honestly, the circuit is just incredible - I have never seen anything like it in my life. It should be a good weekend as I love the track and Abu Dhabi as a place. I prefer it a lot more to Dubai actually. Dubai has always seemed a little bit unreal to me but Abu Dhabi is more like a real place and not so manufactured. And, of course, there's Ferrari World just next to it."

Where Massa lies in the title race by that point remains to be seen. As it stands, he is in fifth and 17 points behind the Red-Bull Renault pair of Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, the joint leaders, but the standings do not tell the full story of the campaign to date. Massa has struggled to get the best out the car, particularly at tracks where the harder Bridgestone tyres are used, and he has regularly been eclipsed for pace by Alonso.

Even in the races where he has beaten his new teammate, he has invariably held up the two-time world champion. There was a noticeable improvement at last weekend's Monaco Grand Prix where he finished in his qualifying position of fourth, although Alonso still hogged the limelight with his drive from last place on the grid to sixth at the finish after a crash in final practice on Saturday forced him to sit out qualifying. Massa admits he is not yet driving to his full potential and is at a loss to explain his lack of performance with the harder tyres in particular.

"I'm definitely bemused by what has happened and I've definitely had some problems at some of the races," he says. "The problem has been especially at races with the harder tyres but I was fortunate that in Monaco we were using the softer tyres so it was a lot better." The concern for Massa is the next race on the calendar in Turkey next weekend. It traditionally calls for the harder rubber and the 29-year-old has almost resigned himself to a poor weekend at a track where he usually excels.

"The rest of the season the tracks will mostly need the softer tyres but not Istanbul and not Silverstone," adds Massa, who sealed a hat-trick of wins at Istanbul Park between 2006 and 2008, taking pole position at each event for added measure. "For sure, we're looking at ideas on how to sort out the problem in Turkey as we need to come up with a solution. "I want to go well there as it's another circuit I really love. It helps to go to a circuit where your memories are all good ones and of winning.

"Hopefully we can go in the right direction to win but I just don't know if we can win there. The Red Bulls are still very quick." Red Bull look more dominant than ever. The team have already taken pole position at every race this season while Webber was never bettered as he led home Vettel, his teammate, in a one-two on the streets of Monaco last weekend. In contrast, Massa has not tasted victory since 2008 when he won the final race of the year in front of his home crowd in Sao Paulo, only to lose out on the world championship as Lewis Hamilton, his title rival, passed Timo Glock on the final corner at Interlagos to win the championship by one point.

Looking back at his best chance of winning the world title, and at the races since, Massa says: "I've been doing this since I was eight and it's not every race that you can win every championship. "But I know the time will come and I must make sure not to think about what has happened too much in the past and just switch off after the races. I'm positive the right result will come but, whatever happens in the race, it doesn't change anything when I go home."

Home life has been turned upside down by the arrival of Massa Jr, who is now five months old. Moving away from Formula One and on to his family, Massa visibly relaxes. "For sure, I'm sleeping a little bit less but it's not so bad. It's a big job but it's also the most perfect feeling in the world," he adds. "My job at the moment is much easier than his mummy's. He only comes to me really for playing and fun although I do some nappies but not so many perhaps."

Felipinho, a dead ringer for his father and already a budding Formula One aficionado having attended the Monaco Grand Prix, spends most of his time just smiling. "He just smiles ... a lot," says Massa. "I'm away sometimes for Ferrari but I think he is just starting to recognise me now and know who his daddy is." In contrast, the smiles have been in short supply for Massa Sr and, unless Ferrari get to the root of his hard tyre problem in Istanbul, that will remain the case next weekend. @Email:sports@thenational.ae