Felipe Massa backs Ferrari in title fight: ‘Charles Leclerc knows how to win’

Jamie Woodhouse
Charles Leclerc looks disappointed. Sao Paulo, November 2022.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc following qualifying. Sao Paulo, November 2022.

Former Ferrari driver Felipe Massa believes the team has title-worthy drivers in their ranks now with Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

Ferrari have not tasted title glory since the days when Massa was driving for them, 2008 proving to be a heart-breaking season for him as his title dreams were suddenly dashed on home soil, but that was also the most recent year that Ferrari won a Championship in the form of the Constructors’ title.

2022 was a case of what could have been, the F1-75 starting out as the leading car before reliability and strategy mishaps, complete with a sprinkling of driver error, meant that Ferrari’s title bids fell apart.

Leclerc was the one leading that Ferrari charge early in 2022, and with Ferrari set to unleash an SF-23 perhaps up to one second faster than its predecessor for 2023, the Scuderia are expected to be in the mix again to finally end their title draught.

And Massa, who is a big fan of the Leclerc-Carlos Sainz driver pairing, believes both racers can mount a title challenge, pointing out that Leclerc can get the job done in the right car having won three races in 2022.

“I really like them. Leclerc and Sainz are title contenders,” Massa told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Ferrari’s problem is certainly not the drivers. Charles has shown that he knows how to win with the car up to the mark.

“Last year he paid the price, as did the whole team, after a start in the championship that had him leading the standings and then they lost all the advantage in a few races.”

But, while the driver pairing stays the same, there has been change higher up at Ferrari, with Fred Vasseur swapping the Alfa Romeo team boss role for the Ferrari principal position, replacing Mattia Binotto who resigned effective as of the end of 2022.

Massa says that Vasseur needs to build the right connections within Ferrari, but does not expect the Frenchman to have the luxury of time on his side.

“It will be important [for Fred] to build good relationships with all areas of the team and the top management,” Massa stated.

“What’s playing against him is time, because the Maranello team hasn’t won the title for so many years and there’s enormous pressure on them.

“Everyone who has worked with him speaks well of him, he has had so much success in motorsport and has great experience in team management. But being in charge of Ferrari is completely different, in that sense it is a big change for Fred as well.”

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Charles Leclerc must show he can handle the pressure

There has rarely been any doubts over the speed that Leclerc possesses, but even considering the huge amount of bad luck which he endured in 2022, there were still signs that maybe he is not yet polished enough to win his first title if the competition is fierce.

Although Ferrari had already done their drivers few favours, the 2022 French GP was seen as a major turning point in the title picture, Leclerc crashing out of the lead with an unforced error, Verstappen therefore going on to score a crucial victory as he ultimately strolled to back-to-back titles.

Now, very few drivers are immune to mistakes, we even saw Verstappen spin the RB18 in Hungary that year, but Leclerc still has not proven that he can remain steely in the face of opposition in a title battle that goes down to the final rounds of the season.

But, undoubtedly strengthened and motivated by the experiences of last season, it is now all eyes on F1 2023 to find out whether Leclerc can end Ferrari’s baron spell at last.