Massa Column: Mercedes still quicker, but Ferrari can be champions

In his first column of the 2017 Formula 1 season, Williams driver Felipe Massa recounts his first race since postponing his retirement – and talks about the state of play among the sport’s frontrunners.

So here we are again. After saying goodbye at the end of 2016, it was not very long before the Williams Martini Racing team asked me if I wanted to come back. My answer was, of course, yes.

I spent a challenging winter in terms of physical preparation, and the tests at Barcelona left me with a positive feeling: the new car felt very good and, even if the three days of testing were not enough to understand it 100 percent, I still left for Melbourne feeling upbeat.

The good feelings from testing were not wrong either, because the first practice session at Albert Park confirmed what I had expected. The car has definitely improved and we had a solid start, but my preparations before qualifying were not ideal.

I missed the second practice session because of a minor electrical problem and that forced us to revise our programme – especially because I hadn’t used the ultrasoft at all on Friday.

So on Saturday morning in final practice I had to finish the long run of the previous day before moving to a qualifying simulation in the final minutes, except I never got to do it because of a red flag.

Best possible result

It all meant that I went into qualifying a little blind in terms of reference points, but it still went well. I was happy with what we had done, but I must say that I was surprised with the laptime that Romain Grosjean did to get ahead of us on the grid.

In the race we confirmed our pace and picked up a decent sixth-place finish. After Ferrari, Mercedes and Red Bull, we were the fastest team, and I think we managed to get the best possible result we could with our car.

So it was a good start, with important points, and I was pretty happy with the weekend.

Of course, the gap to the big teams is quite large and it is clear the change of regulations has helped those who have more financial resources. Red Bull has not yet shown its full potential, being half a second adrift of Mercedes and Ferrari, while our gap is double that.

Ferrari can be champions

I was very surprised by Ferrari. After the problems of 2016, many experts were convinced that the difficulties would have an impact on its hopes for this season.

From the outside, Ferrari continued to develop its 2016 car until the end of the season, and it was suggested that this commitment would hold back its 2017 challenger. Instead, Ferrari has done a great job.

The car was immediately competitive and I believe Ferrari is able to win the championship. The Mercedes is probably quicker by one or two tenths, but Sebastian Vettel has confirmed that he is right there and is able to exploit any error his rival makes – no matter how small.

It is also good for the sport to have different names on the top step of the podium. Fans have more to talk about too, because obviously there are fewer discussions when one team keeps on winning.

But I also hope to be able to seize any opportunities that come my way – and I feel this year there may be a few chances.

Now my focus has already switched to the Chinese Grand Prix. Last year we recovered from 11th to finish sixth in the end, which was a good race for us.

We will see how it goes this year, but I am sure of one thing: we will again meet some of the most unique fans in the world. I know they will be waiting for me when I arrive at my hotel with some pretty original gifts!