The look on Felipe Massa’s face wasn’t so much joy as bewilderment. He’d first contested the Monaco GP in 2002 and had recorded one podium finish, but it was never a circuit at which he’d felt wholly at ease. Yet now, in 2008, he’d stuck his Ferrari on pole on a day when he’d hitherto looked unlikely to challenge. Rob Smedley was his engineer – and a few firm words played their part.
“After we’d started working together in 2006,” Smedley says, “Felipe told me, ‘Look, I’m not very good at Monaco – that’s just how it is.’ So after that year’s race, I did the usual analysis and came to the conclusion that he’d been talking bollocks. If you dug into the data, you found he could potentially run at a similar pace to Michael Schumacher. It was there, but he just hadn’t put it all together. It was the same the following year, against Kimi Räikkönen.
“For 2008 we came up with a different way of setting up the car and Felipe was immediately quick, but the one place he couldn’t get right was Ste Dévote. He seemed to have more grip turning in there than he did at Casino Square, yet he was braking earlier. Before Q1 we had a conversation and he was a little bit better, but not much. He came back saying it was impossible to brake any later into Ste Dévote, so just before Q3 I said, ‘I know what the problem is – it’s you! You’re scared to brake late.’
“His next lap was the same, about 0.2sec down on Kimi through that one corner – and again he claimed he couldn’t brake any later. He said, ‘I will if you want me to, but I’ll end up in the barrier…’ At that point I wandered over and grabbed him by the scruff of the neck. I said, ‘D’you want to let the whole of f***ing Brazil down here, because you’re f***ing letting me down?’
“Felipe then flicked down his visor, lit up the tyres… and subsequently braked 32 metres later into Ste Dévote. I’m fairly sure he was trying to prove that he would end up in the barrier, but then he realised, ‘F**k, I’ve got through.’
“That was it – pole position.”
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