Ferrari's Felipe Massa says F1 teams are still unsure about the best tire strategy to win races, despite having had three races to get more understanding of the tactics needed. Massa reckons that teams still need more time to work out how to approach race weekends, and choose the right strategy for Sundays.
In China last weekend, Massa was firmly in the hunt for a podium finish on a two-stop strategy but his tires went off right at the end of the race, and he slipped back to sixth by the checkered flag. Although his drop down the order in the closing stages pointed to Ferrari have chosen the wrong strategy, Massa is not sure a three-stopper would have been much better.
"It's easy to say, having seen how the race evolved, that I should have been on a three stop rather than a two stop strategy, but in fact, I am not completely sure this would have been correct," he said. "The main problem I had was much poorer performance than the other cars experienced on the hard Pirellis, which meant that, when these tires were fitted, the car had a pace more similar to what we had seen in qualifying and we definitely had more problems than the others. Up until then, the car was quite competitive.
"People have pointed out that [Mark] Webber drove a fantastic race, which involved three pit stops, but you have to accept that, because he failed to get further than Q1 on Saturday, he had plenty of new tires: everyone would want to be in that position, but you must remember he has a very good car, the quickest of the year so far.
"Nevertheless, we are always learning at this stage of the season and we should analyze everything very carefully to see if we should adopt a different approach, maybe modify our qualifying strategy to have some fresher tires for the race. But after three grands prix it is still too early to say what is the best way to work with all these new rules, because in China at the weekend, you saw many different combinations of strategies and tyre usage and many of them seemed to work well.
"Nothing is 100% clear yet and at Ferrari, we have to work out what is best for our car. It is possible that we could see very different strategies in the next few races, depending on the characteristics of the circuits."
Although Webber's charge from 18th on the grid in China to finish on the podium has highlighted that qualifying at the front is no longer essential for a good result, Massa believes Ferrari must keep pushing to bring more single-lap pace to its car.
"For sure, we need to qualify better so we can start further forward on the grid which helps in the race, even with the talk of grid position being less important this year," the Brazilian added. "In China actually my grid position, sixth, was not too bad and then I gained one place immediately after the start which moved me up to fifth. Most importantly though, if you look at the pace of the car, it was good enough to allow us to fight with the leaders.
"That meant I had a very interesting race, being able to make up several places because effectively, the car we had in the race was completely different to the one we had the day before in qualifying. It definitely worked well, because I even led the race for a short while at one point and I held a genuine second place for quite some time.
"Unfortunately, those who were three-stopping for tire changes caught us up much faster than we had expected in the closing stages and, on tires that were in much better shape than mine, they were able to get past."