“I want things to return to normal, to a situation in which I can show my talent as I have always done and as the team knows I can do.”
This was Felipe Massa’s state-of-mind, scribed on his personal blog days after two disastrous weekends in Australia and Malaysia. That Felipe had returned to Maranello so early (with Ferrari team principle Stefano Domenicali) seems to indicate a desire to address the issues surrounding the F2012, but it also raises alarm bells; that Felipe can’t, or won’t move forward until the car does.
Much has been made ofMassa’s body language during the opening rounds to the 2012 season – some describing it as ‘stiff’ or ‘tense’. Certainly Felipe’s mind must be preoccupied with his team-mate’s own startling performances, but this was hardly any different when partnered with Michael Schumacher in 2006. Back then Felipe watched, listened and learned from the German master and on occasion was able to outperform the 7-time world champion. Likewise, when first united with Ayrton Senna at McLaren, Gerhard Berger was fixated on beating the Brazilian, only to come up painfully short. Only after a word from Bernie Ecclestone, suggesting that he would never be as good as Senna, did Berger relax and simply enjoy himself – and in the process sporadically surprise Ayrton.
These are sentiments echoed by Massa’s compatriot Rubens Barrichello, saying: “All of the times when I lost myself a little bit, I had forgotten that and reminded myself that I am doing this because I like it too. So [as drivers], we have to relax – and then we can improve. It’s just a moment, and every moment in Formula 1 is a cycle of life.”
Mark Webber seems to be enjoying his own “cycle of life” moment at present and from the outside at least, he looks like the only one at Red Bull not feeling the pressure of expectation; with Sebastian Vettel enduring his own ‘mini-crisis’, albeit minor compared to Massa’s. Nevertheless, mistakes are creeping into 2011 world champion’s driving which may stem of a lack of composure. But why? Well apart from abovementioned on track difficulties, tension may come from the most obvious place – the hands!
“Relaxed hands win races”, is an often heard phrase, but it is as relevant to Formula 1 as it is to a karter starting his first race. A driver’s hands have a monumental amount of nerve-endings (some of the deepest in the entire body) and as they touch the steering wheel are susceptible to an enormous amount of information. Through each input, vibration and g-force, the nerves are constantly measuring the amount of tyre grip and lateral slip angles. The tighter the driver grips the steering wheel, the less information available, giving a driver a feeling of being “lost”.
Not only this, it may be a cause for inconsistency – the drivers hand’s becoming tired from gripping too tightly and suddenly falling ‘offline’ due to repetitive strenuous activity. The hand nerves and blood vessels make passageways called ‘carpel tunnel’ and surrounding this tunnel is tissue than encompasses the fingers and hands all the way to the skull, neck and upper back. It’s no wonder then that Massa is being observed to be “tense”.
If indeed Felipe requires a ‘better’ car that suits his driving style, he may do well to heed Barrichello’s advice to “close his eyes”, and “enjoy himself”. It may not deliver him the car he desires, but it may give him the impetus to do something about it and maybe, just surprise his team-mate once or twice in the process.