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F1 Opinion 30

What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

Massa: he’s got to go, hasn’t he?

opinion  What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

He’s not been the same since that bang on the bonce. That’s harsh, particularly on such a good bloke – a honourable man who was world champion for 38.907 seconds in 2008 – but it is undeniably true.

Ferrari insists that it is evaluating his future, presumably a ploy to avoid upsetting Fernando Alonso at this crucial juncture, but to hand the Brazilian another stay of execution would be a sign of weakness on the Scuderia’s part.

Massa drove superbly on that memorable day at Interlagos. His performance reminded me of Jean-Pierre Jabouille’s at Dijon in 1979: wondering what all the fuss was about as he cruised to the first win for Renault’s turbo. Massa also won from pole (and set fastest lap). It was his sixth victory of a slickly constructed campaign.

opinion  What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

He hasn’t won since.

He finished a brave and encouraging runner-up at his return race, Bahrain in 2010, but has added only two more second places to his tally: Germany, also in 2010, and Japan last season. There have been five thirds, too, the most recent being in Spain in May.

For such an obviously emotional performer, he has kept his frustration and disappointment impressively bottled, but the increasingly nanny tone of his race engineer Rob Smedley’s voice – a simpatico pair that you can but warm to – gives the game away: they know it is slipping from their grasp and that time is ticking against them.

They turned it around – just – in the second half of last year, but more of the same this year should not warrant another extension of Massa’s contract. That would be a waste of what ought to be a prime seat.

opinion  What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

Worryingly for Massa, the patterns seem ingrained. The better the Ferrari and, therefore, the easier it is to drive, he is able to match and even beat Alonso over a single lap. Come the races, and no matter the tune of their mounts, the latter rampages forward while Massa, who appears as flustered behind the wheel today as he did when Sauber signed him before he was ready (in 2002), slips inevitably rearward.

A sabbatical as Ferrari’s official test driver in 2003; two, more cogent, seasons with Sauber; plus a year under the tutelage of an unthreatened Michael Schumacher polished what Ferrari clearly viewed to be an uncut diamond. And when reigning world champion team-mate Kimi Räikkönen took his foot off the gas in the second half of 2008, Massa finally graduated as a bona fide contender.

All that hard work – and surely it had been a struggle – was undone by fate at Hungaroring in 2009. Thankfully, Massa survived that ugly impact – only for the knife to be cruelly twisted.

opinion  What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

I don’t know what the cause/s of his problem/s is/are. But then neither does Ferrari. Either that, or it doesn’t want to fix it/them, which is worse. It’s as if it has given up on the constructors’ trophy, which it hasn’t won since Massa hit his straps six seasons ago.

A scheduled morning run at tomorrow’s final day of Silverstone’s repackaged Young Drivers’ Test – the embarrassing naughty-schoolboy overtones in Massa’s case are unavoidable – might well be his final throw of the dice in a bid to find that elusive sweet spot. Sadly, there is a gnawing inevitability to his inability to do so.

Being a number two, especially when you have enjoyed and profited from a spell as a number one, de facto or otherwise, is never easy, particularly at Ferrari. Fiery inaugural world champion ‘Nino’ Farina railed against it in 1953. Easygoing Chris Amon, who carried the team through perhaps its bleakest period, rightly got the hump when he discovered that Jacky Ickx, his new team-mate for 1968, was on a considerably better screw than he. Didier Pironi was shocked to the core to discover that he was not the world’s fastest driver when he joined alongside Gilles Villeneuve in 1981. ‘Il Leone’ Nigel Mansell left in a huff at the end of 1990 after Alain Prost had taught him that being stupendously fast is not necessarily enough. Even the beatific Rubens Barrichello ran out patience after six seasons under Schuey’s thumb.

opinion  What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

What’s more, Massa has been Alonso’s number two since the Spaniard, then battling Lewis Hamilton to be top dog at McLaren, ran around the outside of him at the Nürburgring to take the lead of the 2007 European Grand Prix and basically told the complaining Brazilian to man-up as they waited to ascend the podium. They appear to get on well as team-mates, but their pecking order is cringingly obvious.

So what will Ferrari do?

You know, I think it’ll keep Massa on.

It allowed Schumacher four seasons before he won the 2000 title at 31, the age Alonso is now. Several seasons of stupendous success, bar 2005, followed.

The unpicking of that Todt/Brawn/Schumacher triumph-virate was meant to ensure Ferrari’s future success. It may well yet – but the pain of regrowth was absolutely guaranteed. And in this difficult circumstance, Alonso continues as its ace card (although he, too, knows that a world title must come soon for his position to remain sacrosanct). So why risk trumping him with a reluctant number two along the lines of Nico Hülkenberg or Paul di Resta? Especially when the stock of both suggested candidates is, at best, fluctuating.

opinion  What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

Mark Webber might have ‘worked’ at Alonso’s Ferrari: fast enough and smart enough to win races while knowing his place – a sort of superannuated Eddie Irvine – but he didn’t fancy it.

Might Kimi? Ferrari has the seen the best and worst of the truculent Finn, but, no.

Daniel Ricciardo has his sights set elsewhere. And Jean-Eric Vergne is, I suspect, about to be unflatteringly shaded by his Australian Toro Rosso team-mate.

Is Valtteri Bottas the next Niki Lauda? Is Adrian Sutil the next Jean Alesi? Is Pastor Maldonado the next Willy Mairesse? No. No. Er, possibly – and therein lies his rub.

Then there’s Jules Bianchi, currently on loan and impressing at Marussia. The Frenchman has been nurtured by Ferrari since 2009 and was immediately linked to a race seat in the absence of the injured Massa. The Scuderia’s eventual call for Luca Badoer instead was damning. Yes, Bianchi had just turned 20 at time but, if you are good enough, you are old enough.

opinion  What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

Another Young Driver worthy of consideration is Robin Frijns, the Dutchman who beat Bianchi to the 2012 Renault 3.5 title but who is now treading water in GP2. But neither he nor Davide Rigon, Ferrari’s incumbent whizz-kid, albeit at 26, possess the same frisson as did Ricardo Rodríguez (1961), Amon (1967) and Villeneuve (1978), the Scuderia’s most recent hunchy punts on ‘unproven’ talent.

António Félix da Costa, a 21-year-old Portuguese, perhaps does, but street-smart Red Bull has already got its horns into him.

And so we come full circle. Massa: he’s going to stay, isn’t he?

Weakened, Ferrari is no longer able to choose from the pick of the crop. There was a time when its second (even third) seat was considered prime. There was a time when it deemed playing off its drivers against each other to be incentivising as well as incendiary. Block-vote Schumacher changed all that and the team reaped the rewards. Now, however, it is paying the price – of which Massa’s continued presence is the physical manifestation.

That’s harsh, too, but (un)deniably true.

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opinion  What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

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30 comments on What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

  1. Mark Simpson, 18 July 2013 09:59

    ROBIN (not Robert) Frijns….

  2. Alex Harmer, 18 July 2013 11:09

    Good spot Mark, thanks.


  3. Michael Spitale, 18 July 2013 11:55

    I think Alonso likes things the way they are and he is in charge at Ferrari. There is no Todt or Brawn, no strong willed people running the team at the moment. Ferrari is also in the brilliant position to not have to panic should they fall a spot or 2 in the constructors since they get so much extra money from Uncle Bernie not to mention #1 in merchandise worldwide easily.
    Hulkenburg, Di Resta, etc would all be good picks, but it will not happen.

  4. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 18 July 2013 13:45

    The article is like the proverbial ‘broken record’ and, basically, it’s like ‘beating a dead horse’.

    Yes, yes and yes. Massa can be quicker than Alonso over 1 lap; Massa is inconsistent; Massa makes too many rookie-like errors.

    It’s too bad, however, that Alonso hasn’t really out-quallified Massa too much in the last dozen or so Grands Prix dating back to the final few races of 2012 when Massa was grid-dropped purposly to boost Alonso’s title chances.

    [Are things like Hockenheim 2010 and Austin 2012 suppose to help a guy like Massa? The anwer is "NO!"]

    What ever Massa’s woes, he does seem to expose Alonso’s Achilles Heel (which Pat Fry alluded to on the Monday after last year’s Abu Dhabi meeting to the driver’s chagrin): That the Spaniard doesn’t put the car as far up the grid as is capable or someone like Vettel or Hamilton probably would. And, often, that leaves the car with competitive race pace at a disadvantage in relation to a guy like Vettel (who’s out-qualified Webber about 10-0) in the Championship.

    The Ferrari F138 was the ONLY Grand Prix car that had the capacity of winning ALLof the first 5 races of 2013 yet mistakes meant it was Vettel who came out in the lead of the Table.

    In my opinion, they should get rid of both Alonso and Massa. This pandering to Alonso (including this rumored idea that Alonso ‘likes’ Massa “where he is”) is childish and unprofessional.

    Get rid of both of them and get the cheque book out for Vettel and Hamilton and start afresh.

  5. Mario Carneiro Neto, 18 July 2013 13:46

    I’m a Brazilian. I’m a Massa fan. I’m a Ferrari fan.

    Having said all of that I agree with the general argument here, and I think you make a very important point regarding post-Schumacher Ferrari. But I also believe not enough has been said of the incompetence of the people running the Scuderia since the Todt-Brawn years. Domenicali is just as likeable as Felipe, but also just as inadequate a man for his position, and whose continued employment is starting to baffle me, much like Felipe’s.

    Ferrari needs a total overhaul in its leadership structure below Luca di Montezemolo, if it’s going to start winning again. They need someone who wouldn’t stomach the presence of a driver such as Felipe remaining there for so long without any results. We need the Ferrari that fired drivers mid season back.

    Also, I really really hope Felipe gets himself a competitive seat sometime after he leaves Ferrari. Things look bleak for the Brazilian F1 fan… Not much to look forward to in the near horizon…

  6. The Original Ray T, 18 July 2013 19:21

    The question is: what should Ferrari have done with Massa?

    Enzo would not have tolerated this. Championships are won with a strong #2. Alonso has thrown away championships because he was more paranoid about a competitive teamate then focusing on the goal. He should learn some math and realize that every point his teamate gets is one less point for the competition. Barrichello won championships for Schumacher.

    The fact that Massa has a job makes it yet more difficult to take F1 seriously any more.

  7. The Original Ray T, 18 July 2013 19:24

    Mario -completely agree about Domenicali, but I doubt he makes important decisions.
    At this point its not about results, its about safety -Massa has been making some serious mistakes leading to high speed crashes, he needs to hang it up for his own good.

  8. The Original Ray T, 18 July 2013 19:26

    Michael, sadly, I think you are right. I don’t think winning is a goal of Ferrari these days.

  9. David H, 18 July 2013 19:36

    Have long thought Ferrari would rather give up the constructor’s title than have a no. 2 that could be any sort of a threat to Alonso.

    Feel for Massa, cruel twist of the gods… given THAT Singapore race and whatmighthavebeen’s… and now he’s to be ever supportive to who?? Must seem like a bad dream.

  10. Rich Ambroson, 18 July 2013 20:30

    pironi was never a number one driver. (not at Ferrari, for sure)

  11. Rich Ambroson, 18 July 2013 20:48

    I completely agree with Mario Carneiro Neto overall. Domenicalli is as much (if not more) of a liability than my guy Massa (who I admit should make way for another driver at this point).

    I would like to see Massa racing with Ferrari at LeMans, in sportscars, rather than being at midfield/tail-end team in “f1″

  12. chris b, 18 July 2013 20:55

    do you know I have never ever been a Ferrari fan, they are special when you see them live and they do stand out, but I don’t like Ferrari, I do think that it is in Massa’s best interest to leave, I always thought Rubens a much better driver when he escaped and for me, once Massa has a move relaxed atmosphere he will be far better driver,

    do agree with you Paul about the old man, he would want at least 3 number ones, all played off against each other in an attempt to make them go faster,

    maybe there should be a vote as to who we feel is best suited to Ferrari with Alonso? my vote is for the Hulk but as an equal

  13. Matt_D, 19 July 2013 02:04

    I blame team dynamics.

    Massa once was World Driving Champion …for 20 seconds, so there’s no denying he is a legitimate contender to the crown. His problem since Rubens sprung the spring on him has been Alonso. Felipe prefers a a car little understeery, ‘Nando prefers a little oversteery. Through force of will and his commanding personality, Alonso immediately became the defacto leader of the team and, along the way, saw to it that his driving needs were satisfied before Massa’s. This stretched Ferrari’s resources a bit thin and put Massa on the back foot. Massa has rarely been comfortable in a car since.

  14. Alastair Warren, 19 July 2013 03:11

    What will Ferrari do with Felipe Massa?

    I don’t know, but I am going to go off of Motor Sport if you keep repeating this Massa was almost the 2008 World Champion line.

    It was an engineered championship bought about by Hamilton being robbed of his Spa victory. As Roebuck stated, I think in the 2009 preview, Massa didn’t see which way Hamilton went at Spa. When Massa comes across as a top chap, does he benefit from the fallacy that he was almost the 2008 champion? Does it do him any favours?

    I think it’s a disservice to both Hamilton and Massa, and airbrushes that crime committed at Spa from history. It’s also a reminder of Mosley and his unqualified meddlers.

    In 2008 Massa didn’t win at Spa, just as Alonso didn’t win at Singapore! Some people knew full well went on at Singapore at the time but stashed it away, a card to played when it suited, a bit like Hunt’s too wide McLaren M23, and not completing the full race distance at Brands in 1976.

    Following on from Michael Spitale’s point about Ferrari personnel I really like the friendlier, more sporting, seemingly less cynical public face of Ferrari, but their stunts at Austria, Indy, Monza and Spa this century have really tarnished the brand for me. See that fantastic F12 as tested by Clarkson on Top Gear? Great car, shame about the tacky shields. Besides being blingy they’re a link to unsporting shenanigans.

    Please leave the hackneyed line about Massa almost winning the 2008 season to the fanboys and tabloids. It doesn’t go well with your website tagline.

  15. Jrosales, 19 July 2013 03:35

    Give Michael a shot at being Alonso’s teammate for another chance. Maybe this would make Alonso wake up and make the car better like Michael do during those years of schumi greatness. Michael would give Alonso a run for its money!! Ferrari hired Michael back!!

  16. John Read, 19 July 2013 05:53

    G’day Alastair,

    The only reason that stories about Massa mention that he was almost the 2008 World Champion is that Massa was almost the 2008 World Champion.

    I hope that clears it up for you.

    And I wish he would have been.

  17. John B, 19 July 2013 10:43

    I second John Read. All those in favour…

  18. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 19 July 2013 12:34

    The problem is Alonso.

    He is poison to a team.

    He was poison for McLaren.

    He went back and poisoned Renault (to the point where only this week has Pat Symmonds’ ban has been lifted).

    He’s poison for Massa and for Ferrari.

    To be perfectly frank, Massa over-achieved in 2008 because the development on the front end of the car went the wrong route for Raikkonent that summer. Massa was about to be fired after the first two races in Australia in Malaysia…but misfortune for Kimi in Canada (where Hamilton smashed into the back of him at the red light in the pit lane) and in France (where he was leading until the exhaut broke loose) cost the Finn a lot, bringing Massa into play at a time when the development went towards under-steer and away from over-steer. Kimi pointed it out but wasn’t forceful enough.

    At Spa, Raikkonen had the car back to his liking and he was faster from there on. Spa was all Raikkonen-Hamilton but it was also the end of Kimi’s title and he then had to help Massa (at Fuji, at China, at Interlagos).

    The partnership was productive. They nearly got all 4 championships in 2007 and 2008. Massa was motivated.

    With Alonso there now, how is one to get motivated when you’re asked to give up a win mid year (’10) and then are grid-dropped (’12).

    The fact is ’08 was an anomoly, aided by politicing against Raikkonen as Santander money made it’s way.

    Massa was never a pure Ace and he is what he is.

    Massa’s almost as fast as Alonso…but he’d be better off at another team.

  19. Ray In Toronto, Canada (Ray T (The other one)), 19 July 2013 12:58

    The worst thing Massa can do is stay at Ferrari at *any* cost and, thus, subjugate himself.

    My advise to Felipe’ would be to continue out-qualifying and out-starting Alonso as best he can and *finish* the races… and hope Vettel wins and wins so that he (Felipe’) doesn’t have to “help” Alonso in the Championship which, in my mind, is over anyway for the Spaniard.

    The best thing for Massa now is to show the rest of the team managers that he’s “within 1-tenth of Fernando” (no shame in that) and to convince them if he was in a team that didn’t marginalize him, he’d produce.

  20. Bill, 19 July 2013 14:31

    “Weakened, Ferrari is no longer able to choose from the pick of the crop.”

    Ouch! But aint that the truth. The only thing I miss in this otherwise excellent article is the notion that in all likelyhood its Alonso who is advocating for Massa’s stay. For some reason he seems very comfortable with Massa, probably because the latter doesnt mind playing second fiddle.

    I think Ferrari is in a split. To keep Alonso when they produce 2nd best race cars year after year they need to keep him happy. To keep him happy they keep a teammate who doesnt make waves. But Massa is underperforming in a way that doesnt help the WCC standings, and he also doesnt take away points from Alonso’s rivals.

    I must agree with Mario Carneiro that some of the blame must be with Domenicali’s lack of vision and leadership. Just a few weeks ago he stated they still havent mastered the blown floor technology. Compared to Red Bull that is no shame because of Newey. Compared to James Key at Torro Rosso, Costa at Mercedes and Allison at Lotus that is unacceptable.

    Next year is make or break, because if they produce a 2nd best car again, they will most likely lose Alonso, and, indeed, will not be able to choose from the pick of the crop.

    I wish Montezemolo had a little more Enzo Ferrari in himself, and put a more capable team boss at the scuderia. I dont think Enzo wouldv waited so long seeing his beloved cars lose year after year.

  21. Rich Ambroson, 19 July 2013 16:05

    I’m with John Read and John B. on this one. Massa was a worthy champion, and he did not cut any corners. If the Crashgate race hadn’t happened, and if the Ferrari engine in Hungary doesn’t blow, Felipe has a massive lead over the guy with the car that hat input from stolen IP…

  22. PeteH, 19 July 2013 19:14

    ferrari IP sent by a ferrari employee.

    ferrari came out very well and got rid of a member of staff causing waves internally. Shame the seeming plea-bargain means we won’t see Stepney’s side of the story – including the location of the many skeletons in those closets in northern Italy.

    I hope ferrari continue to fail, couldn’t happen to a more deserving bunch.

  23. The Original Ray T, 19 July 2013 19:40

    At this point I will input some math and note that 2008 was 5 years ago.
    F1 driver is not a lifelong career.

  24. Rich Ambroson, 19 July 2013 20:19

    peteh, you’re not very familiar with IP law, are you?

  25. Rich Ambroson, 19 July 2013 20:21

    Although peteh, I have to say I agree with you (obliquely, I suppose) on one thing. I have enjoyed watching the Woking squad flounder this year.

    I’m also glad Williams fired Coughlan. That man was the real culprit right there, but we digress…

  26. Bill, 19 July 2013 21:42

    If one guy came out well from that affair, it was Stepney. He was found guilty of sabotage, industrial espionage, sporting fraud and attempt at serious injury and got sentenced to 20 months in prison. That plea bargain saved his bacon some jail time with Italian Bubba’s.

  27. A.S. Gilbert, 20 July 2013 07:12

    “The time has come,” the walrus said, “to talk of many things…”
    I like Feilpe, and thank the fates for saving him after the Hungaroring incident.
    I’ve never thought he was a ( bottled ) World Champion, in the native talent sense. Not for 20 seconds, or ever, “if your aunt has stones, she’s your uncle”,entitlement, that.
    He has really managed his career brilliantly, “recused” from middle level racing, to A-list testing. Then the A- big chair. Rehabilitating man !
    He seems not dictatorial enough, but very sharp edged diplomatically and technically.
    I’d put Kamui Kobayashi in the 2nd Ferrari next year, although the major regulations changes, promote a wider view. Hulkenberg seems more obvious, but his ultimate role should be a #1 ride, and soon !! Unless the earth moves, that’s not Ferrari until 2016, or so. The team is a mess technically, and tactically. Their cars don’t look really modern, nor quick and they aren’t. Hulkenberg, like Alonso, is faster than the cars he drives.
    Felipe should, perhaps co-ordinate an effort by the Scuderia, in top level sports car racing. That is what everyone concerned, ought to do.
    The F1 chances for him from now would be lowly, unless it’s Williams, or Force India.

  28. Bill, 20 July 2013 17:00

    “Ferrari insists that it is evaluating his future, presumably a ploy to avoid upsetting Fernando Alonso at this crucial juncture”

    My apologies to Paul Fearnley for suggesting you excluded Alonso’s part in Massa staying at Ferrari. I shouldv read it better because you did.

    I did some more number crunching on Massa vs Alonso at Ferrari since they are teammates starting the 2010 season until now. We know Alonso did 11 wins and Massa zero, or, if you are generous and count Hock 2010, 10 for Alonso and 1 for Massa.

    They scored points as follows:
    Massa: 441 (448 if you give him Hock 2010)
    Alonso: 910 (903 if you give Massa Hock 2010)

    Massa: 7
    Alonso: 32

    Compare that to ‘block vote’ Schumachers era when they didnt have the best car:

    Schumacher: 11 podiums
    Irvine: 8 podiums

    Schumacher: 12 podiums
    Rubens: 9 podiums

    Pound for pound Massa is performing worse than clear number two drivers Irvine and Rubens.

    Again, I totally agree with Fearnley in that if Ferrari doesnt replace Massa it will be a(nother) sign of weakness.

  29. RHUAIRI MACLEOD, 20 July 2013 21:11

    Massa has been relegated to 2nd driver status by Ferrari under pressure from the Spanish sponsor Santander. It truly is embarassing that Ferrari despite Crashgate and more recently Gearboxgate continue to support the really 2nd string driver Alonso.

  30. kowalsky, 21 July 2013 16:01

    ferrari lives on past glory. people seem to forget how many ferrari drivers finished his careers there. Just three dominating periods in 60 years. ascari, lauda and schumacher.
    i was never a ferrari fan, but i must admit that if they keep massa for another year, i won’t be a f1 fan either.

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