Stories that Ferrari ordered Felipe Massa to “destroy” Lewis Hamilton’s race in Singapore are a classic example of modern Internet journalism gone bananas. The stories are based on a radio message from Massa’s engineer Rob Smedley which was not included in the live television broadcast, in which the English engineer told Massa to “Hold Hamilton as much as we can. Destroy his race as much as we can”.
The circumstances, one should remember, were as follows: Hamilton started the race at a disadvantage because the FIA had decided that he should not be given an extra tyre, despite having had a puncture in qualifying. He was then boxed in at the start by Mark Webber and had to lift off and so dropped from fourth on the grid to eighth. He recovered to sixth in the early laps, passing the two Mercedes and closing in on Massa. The two men then ran together with Hamilton keen to get ahead and make more progress and thus close the gap to the people ahead.
The implication of Smedley’s remark is very clear. Hamilton was in a faster car and Massa had much to gain from a strategic point of view by holding him behind until the pitstops. This would mean that Massa should come out ahead and thus Hamilton’s charge back to the front would be frustrated. The two men pitted at the same moment and on the first lap out of the pits tangled with Hamilton running into the back of Massa. This left Lewis with a damaged nose and Massa with a rear puncture.
The Ferrari radio call has been taken out of context and extrapolated into being a call for Massa to cause the collision. This is poor reporting and deeply unfair to Ferrari. The clash, which was blamed on Hamilton by the FIA Stewards, was a fairly normal racing incident with Lewis being to blame if anyone was. It was certainly not something worthy of stories that suggest that Massa might have done anything deliberately. His anger at the accident is a clear indication that he did not intend anything to happen, so the story is a complete work of fiction.
After the incident Hamilton pitted again (going on for an extra lap with his damaged nose) and was then given a penalty as well, which dropped him down the order. Massa had to do most of a lap on the damaged tyre and lost a lot of time and dropped to the back of the field, which meant that he was then stuck in traffic for most of the event. He was less than happy about this and later expressed his discontent to Hamilton during a TV interview. This clearly annoyed Hamilton, but he restrained himself from any reaction and walked away.
The incident has led to the somewhat predictable stories suggesting that Hamilton is too aggressive in his driving. I do not believe that for one minute. He seems like a driver who is frustrated with his machinery and doing everything he can to get a good result. In such circumstances drivers make mistakes, but it is not in their nature to sit calmly behind others. Nor do I believe it is a question of bad management. Lewis seems to be fairly composed most of the time and suggestions that he somehow needs calming down seem to come largely from people who have no idea what they are talking about.
“I don’t think Lewis is here seeking to make enemies but a car in front of him is a car he has to get around and you don’t overtake a car without some risk,” said team boss Martin Whitmarsh. “The car in front of him at that moment – it doesn’t matter who it is – is the enemy of the moment. Lewis will be upset, but he is a resilient individual. He chose to walk away from a skirmish that could have been.”
Massa was aggrieved because he felt his race had been destroyed by Hamilton’s mistake.
“There is no point in me hiding the disappointment and anger I feel at the end of a race that could have been a very different result,” he said. “The damage following contact with Hamilton penalised me a lot because I lost so much time in the early stages when the traffic was still very heavy. After the race I tried to talk to him, to clear the air, but he walked away without even answering, so I told him what I thought when we found ourselves in the interview area.”