How Do You Solve A Problem Like Felipe Massa?

“He had a great race. He was a little unlucky because he could have been out in front of Lewis (Hamilton) for a fraction, but he was there in the first six cars which were very close.

‘The fact he was there is for me the best thing. I’m sure this this will be a turning point of his season because he needs it.”

Stefano Domenicali, boss of Ferrari, was happy after last weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix with the good performance of his team’s second driver, who was in dire need of it. Not often do you find the near-champion of just a few years ago in real danger of losing his drive. However, if you’re Felipe Massa and you drive for Ferrari, you need to get back to where you used to be.

The man from Brazil was hired in 2002 for Sauber and after being dropped at the end of a good but error-strewn season, was brought into Ferrari as a test driver and groomed as Michael Schumacher’s under-study. Sauber’s re-signed him for the next two seasons, where he proved competitive against his more-experienced team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella in 2004 and beat former world champion Jacques Villeneuve in the same car for 2005.

His first win was at the Turkish GP

2006 marked the start of the Ferrari chapter in Massa’s career. Performing favourably against Michael Schumacher in the same team, he won two races including his home GP at Interlagos and showed he was to be taken seriously in an enviroment where many could have lost their way at such an early stage. The Brazilian had the responsibility to lead from the front when Michael Schumacher announced his retirement from the sport at the season’s Italian GP. Losing a man who had spent eleven years with the Italians and transformed their fortunes from mid-table strugglers to almighty conquerors was going to be the ultimate test for Massa. Kimi Raikonnen was drafted in from great British rivals McLaren and with Felipe on fine form it was, on paper at least, seen to be a powerful pairing.

Winning his home race was little comfort to the heart-broken runner-up

Scoring three wins and multiple podiums wasn’t enough to be the team’s best driver of the on-coming year as Kimi Raikkonen became one of the few drivers in Formula One history to win the world championship in their debut year for Ferrari. 2008 was to be roles reversal as after the opening two races in which Massa failed to score any points, he was on the podium in all of the next three races which included two race victories. A storming lap for pole poisition at the Monaco GP was further evidence that Massa had raised his game considerably and he took more race wins during a season in which he was so close to being world champion. As he crossed the line to win the season-ending Brazilian GP, he was set to be the first Brazilian champ since Ayrton Senna, but Lewis Hamilton’s pass on Timo Glock at the final corner instead gave Hamilton the title in a heart-breaking end to the season for the man who was now seen as Ferrari’s number one driver, ahead of the cool Finn Kimi Raikkonen, who at this point was the highest-paid driver in the sport. It was appearing to be money wasted for a driver who was not at his best.

Ferrari produced an uncompetitive car in 2009 and were unable to fight for victories, but Massa performed and got points finishes in a car which could do little better. His season came to an abrupt end at the tenth race of the season in Hungary, when a 1KG spring from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car hit Felipe Massa’s helmet, causing him to crash head-on into a barrier. Air-lifted to the nearest hospital in Budapest, doctors performed live-saving operations as they strived to repair his fractured skull. There were doubts whether he would return to the track but following a series of neurological examinations was cleared to race.

2010 began with a podium and a second-place finish behind his new team-mate and former double world champion Fernando Alonso. Massa kept up strong pace for the following races but it was at the German GP where he had to hand Alonso the victory. Despite leading the race and looking good to win, his race engineer Rob Smedley told him,”Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?”, and as Massa allowed the Spanish driver to pass, Smedley followed up with “Ok mate, good lad. Stick with him now. Sorry.” The messages were broadcasted to the world during the race and the team were later fined for breaching the rule which prohibits team orders. In the eyes of many observers, Massa had willingly thrown away a win and with it, his chances of being considered a top driver. As the end of the season arrived, Ferrari president heavily criticised Massa, saying that his brother had been driving instead of Felipe in a year where the Brazilian failed to win a race and finished over one hundred points behind Alonso in the championship. 2011 was a similarly poor season as Alonso strongly out-shone Massa and only last weekend did he show signs that his 2012 campaign may be rescued.

Perez may lack the necessary experience required to spray the champagne as Alonso’s team-mate

His contract runs out at the end of 2012 and there are a number of alternatives available to the squad from Maranello should they run empty on patience. Sauber’s Sergio Perez is part of Ferrari’s Driver’s Academy and has the squad to thank for his development. He has shown strong race pace since he began his career in 2011 and could certainly be a valuable back-up to Alonso. The reasoning against the Mexican landing a race seat would be his relative inexperience, as he is only in his second season in the top flight of motorsport.

Heiki Kovalainen displayed why moving early can be hazardous, switching from Renault to McLaren in just his second season, where he struggled to establish himself against the British team’s star man Lewis Hamilton. He achieved one race victory in his time but often performed below the team’s expectations, moving to Caterham for 2010 where he has since been re-building himself as a name to be respected.

Could a Scotsman join one of the world’s most famous names in sport?

Scotsman Paul Di Resta is another man in his second year and has shown consistent, if not spectacular displays, so far. He may be a good choice as he could be unlikely to consistently trouble Alonso on a race basis, something which caused Alonso to leave McLaren after just a single season when he failed to get the star treatment he demanded. Three-time world champion Jackie Stewart has put Di Resta forward as a viable replacement for the incumbent Ferrari driver:

“Paul di Resta would be a very good target for Ferrari,” said the three-time world champion. “He has got an enormous amount of talent. I hope Scotland doesn’t ask too much too soon from him. You’ve got to be with a top-class team in order to win. You can’t do that with a second-rate team. Force India are trying hard to be a first-rate team but they’re not there yet. Paul has been leading that team to better results. I think he’s got every chance. We’ve got a great history of drivers. For a small country we are punching above our weight and Paul di Resta is the present generation of that.”

Will the Aussie advance to Italy?

Most realistic out of the rumoured personnel is Mark Webber. 182 race starts to his name, he has a proven pedigree as a multiple race-winner. He has been forthright in his words in the past, and is unlikely to back down against his team-mate, unlike some of Ferrari’s previous second drivers. Approaching 36, he is nearing the closing stages of his career and would be the perfect one or two-year stop-gap between a possible recruitment of Sebastian Vettel. The double world champion and Ferrari have both made no secret of their desires to team up in the future, and Webber may be the man to assist their Constructor’s Championship challenge until Vettel may arrive.

Massa may have qualified and finished the Monaco Grand Prix behind Fernando Alonso, but it was an encouraging performance from him when he needs it most. Stefano Domenicali  said after the race that he and the team expect a “great” driver in the Brazilian for the rest of the season. Consistent repeats are what’s needed if he is to remain a Ferrari man beyond 2012.


1 Comment

  1. He is Brazil’s child. He may me dropped from ferrari but he will remain in Formula one.

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