Massa and team-mate Valtteri Bottas started the race from sixth and seventh on the grid after showing improved wet-weather form in Saturday’s rain-affected qualifying session.
With the fourth round of the season taking place in dry conditions, the team was quietly confident that they could score another double points finish.
Massa had a strong start but on the run to the first corner, he collided with his former team-mate Fernando Alonso. His car was briefly pitched into the air after the wheel-to-wheel contact, but it unbelievably managed to survive the hard hit.
He crossed the line to end the first lap in fifth place but couldn’t keep up with the pace ahead. However, the Brazilian did manage to edge clear of those behind in the opening stint.
The 32-year-old pitted for the first time on lap 11 but it proved to be a disastrous stop that took 78 seconds, thanks to a problem fitting the new rear tyres to his FW36 – possibly caused by his earlier contact.
His hopes of a points finish swiftly vanished, as he returned to the track in last place. The 2008 championship runner-up attempted to salvage something from the race but he could only climb to a lowly and disappointing 16th by the finish, after passing the backmarkers and Esteban Gutierrez’s Sauber.
“Frustrating” was the word he used to describe the race, as he looked set to finish well within the top 10 before his pit lane nightmare.
Bottas took the chequered flag just half a second behind Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India in seventh place, meaning Williams didn’t leave the Shanghai International Circuit empty handed.
Like Massa, the Finn’s car managed to escape damage after contact with Nico Rosberg at turn one. He showed good pace throughout, which was encouraging, to score a welcome six points.
The top 10 finish was made even more impressive when you take into account the fact that the Williams team and the FIA had no telemetry from his car during the 56-lap race, which complicated things even further.
The Grove-based outfit’s results so far have failed to show the true potential of the Mercedes-powered FW36, which has shown flashes of speed so far this season. They will be hoping for a more straight-forward race weekend in Spain in three weeks’ time.
Images courtesy of Williams Martini Racing