BY CHERYL TAY
Thinking back to the first Formula 1 SingTel Singapore Grand Prix in 2008, things were a lot different for Felipe Massa then. Vying for the championship title with Lewis Hamilton then, Massa lost precious points at Marina Bay when an unfortunate incident occurred in the pits during the race.
He started well with pole position but during the race, his first pit stop was ruined when the fuel hose remained attached to his car as he moved off. He took the fuel hose down the pit lane, knocked one of his mechanics over in the process, veered suddenly in front of Adrian Sutil (who was driving for Force India then) before coming to a stop near the pit exit. His crew had to sprint the entire length of the pit lane to wrench the hose off the car. That cost him valuable time and possibly the race win as well.
Since the horrible accident he had during qualifying at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix where he was struck on the helmet by a suspension spring from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn at high speed and crashed head-on into a tyre barrier, things haven't quite been the same for Massa.
Currently lying 10th in the Drivers' Championship, his best finish this year so far was fourth place at Silverstone and Monza.
Keeping his spirits up, Massa has put all that behind him and is focused on achieving the best results he can. Addressing his fans during an autograph session at the Ferrari Store at Marina Bay Sands on Thursday afternoon, he said, "The race is in the evening so we need to stay on European time — that means going to bed very late and waking up very late as well. We need to get used to the time and stay in the right time for the race."
Preparation for the race is therefore very important and Massa stresses on the high fitness levels required "not just from the muscles, but also the heart". He has been training a lot and was running on the track in the sweltering mid-day heat before coming for this event.
He added, "It is very hot and humid here so it is the most difficult, especially when the race is very long (two hours). The track is in the middle of the city, so it is hard on the tyres and we need a good car with high downforce. The team has been working a lot since Monza and I am confident to be in good shape for this weekend."
Answering a question from a fan about Singapore compared to Monaco, Massa replied, "Singapore is similar to Monaco, but it is tougher here. One lap here is like two laps at Monaco because the track here is very long and the conditions are hot. The race is in the evening too, so if you put everything together, this drive is tougher compared to Monaco. The layout is similar so in terms of driving, it is not so different. It is a tricky track and we have to be very careful. If we make mistakes, we might not be able to carry on as you might just find yourself in the wall!"
Also present at the event with Massa was Stefano Domenicali, team principal of Scuderia Ferrari. He said, "The expectation is always to be as quick as possible and our target is to get Fernando (Alonso) and Felipe (Massa) on the front row. We know that the competition is very tight, but the championship is still open, so we need to make sure that we give them a quick car and for sure they will do a great job. I know that they both like the track here in Singapore, so they will maximise what the team is able to give to them.
"As for strategy, it is a special race because anything can happen at any moment. The roads are very close so we need to be ready to react and make a decision if something happens. Otherwise the main thing is to manage the tyres because it is quite critical mainly on the rear.
"There are seven races to go and if we want to be able to achieve our target we need to perform the best we can here in Singapore. The team is working very hard to prepare the best way they can for the race. It remains crucial for all the races up to the end as all races have points to score and we need the points for the team to make sure we can keep alive the fact that we want to fight to the end for both titles. That's why we need to be very good in terms of performance," he added.
On a lighter note, Massa likes Singapore for its good restaurants and shopping malls. While some drivers only get to see the airport, track and hotel, Massa has had the chance to go around town, as he usually arrives a little earlier to get used to the time.
Passionate about cars and motorsports, Cheryl Tay is a familiar face in prominent local, regional as well as international automotive titles. More of her at www.cheryl-tay.com.