May 12th, 2013 (F1Plus / Chris Cameron-Dow) - Ferrari's Felipe Massa is having his strongest start to a season for some time, and currently sits fifth in the Drivers' Championship on 45 points, 44 points behind championship leader Sebastian Vettel. In today's Spanish Grand Prix, Massa delivered a strong performance to finish third, 16.7 seconds behind second-placed Kimi Raikkonen. But the results were not quite representative of Massa's pace, after he was very quick in the closing stages of the race before running out of grip on his final set of tyres.
Massa made a strong start from ninth on the grid to run sixth in the early part of the race. He was decisive and aggressive in overtaking and soon made his way up to second, behind team-mate Alonso. But ultimately his tyre strategy prevented him from staying ahead of Kimi Raikkonen, and he ended up behind the Finn after their last round of pistops. Massa then proceeded to chase Raikkonen down, taking as much as 2 seconds per lap out of the gap at times, but simply did not have the grip left in his tyres in the last few laps to maintain the challenge.
Third place was nonetheless a very strong result from ninth on the grid, and could have been better if not for a grid penalty received for holding up Mark Webber during qualfiying. The stewards found that Massa had impeded Webber during Q2 and moved him three places down the grid as a result, which arguably cost him second place in the race and possibly even a realistic chance at challening for victory.
Massa's performance in the last stint of the race was indicative of a return to the confidence that almost won him the World Championship in 2008. He came out of the pits well ahead of fourth-placed Sebastian Vettel but a fair way behind Kimi Raikkonen, and instead of consolidating his position went after the Lotus driver, reeling him in at a rapid rate. For a while it looked like Massa would catch Raikkonen, but ultimately he wore his rear tyres too much to sustain the challenge and brought the car home in a comfortable third place.
Ferrari seem to be strong title contenders for the first time since 2010 when Alonso went into the final race of the season as title favourite. In 2012, an inspired season-long campaign from Alonso resulted in him being in contention until the final race of the season in Brazil, but the car never looked particularly competitive. This season is different - Alonso has already won two races and the Ferrari has been quick at every race. Even with a retirement in Malaysia, Alonso is still third in the points table, 17 points behind reigning World Champion Sebastian Vettel.
Massa has endured a tough few seasons since returning from a horrific accident at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix. He has struggled for confidence and performance, but seems to finally be getting over those difficulties. The next step is a race win, which has not yet looked likely, but is only a matter of time given the performance of the 2013 Ferrari. He will, of course, have to compete with Fernando Alonso for any wins, and Alonso is widely regarded as the strongest driver on the grid at present.
The next race is in Monaco, where Massa delivered an impressive performance in 2012. He will be looking to improve on that performance, and his result in Spain today, in the Principality in two weeks' time.