2013 will make or break Massa’s Ferrari career
Felipe Massa is driving for Ferrari in 2013, after securing a one-year contract extension towards the end of 2012. It will be the Brazilian’s eighth season with the team, and his fourth alongside double world champion Fernando Alonso. If it does not go significantly better than the last two years, it could also very well be his last year with the Prancing Horse.
Massa joined Ferrari in 2006 to partner Michael Schumacher. The Brazilian had an impressive season, finishing third in the championship just behind his team leader. 2007 saw Massa finish fourth, behind the McLaren pair of Hamilton and Alonso, while team-mate Kimi Raikkonen took the title. 2008 was very nearly Massa’s year, as he lost out to Lewis Hamilton by a single point at a thrilling season finale in Brazil.
In 2009, Massa suffered a near-fatal accident when a spring detached itself from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn car and hit Massa on the head. He spent some time in critical condition in hospital, but spent the remainder of the season recovering before re-joining his team at the start of 2010. Unfortunately, since then Massa has not found the form he had displayed before his 2009 accident, which has frequently led to speculation over his future.
In 2010, Fernando Alonso lost out to Sebastian Vettel in the championship at the final round in Abu Dhabi, after winning five races during the season in a competitive Ferrari. Massa scored no victories in 2010 although he did feature on the podium five times, and finished a massive 108 points behind his team-mate. 2011 went from bad to worse for the Brazilian, and he ended the season without finishing a race higher than fifth and with less than half the points of his team-mate.
2012 could easily have been Massa’s last year at Ferrari. He performed dismally in the first half of the season, although that was partly due to the lack of performance of his car, but that didn’t explain how he managed to be 139 points behind Alonso by the mid-season break. At that point, Massa’s time at Ferrari looked like ending at the end of the season, and the media was flooded with speculation over the identity of his replacement.
But Massa was determined to keep his place at Ferrari, and he began to deliver results. In the six races after the break, Massa narrowly outscored Alonso, and he looked a completely different driver to the man who had struggled so much earlier in the year. For the rest of the season, he dutifully played the part of number two to Alonso, letting his team-mate through on a few occasions to ensure that Alonso had a shot at the title. It very nearly paid off, and Alonso finished just three points behind world champion Sebastian Vettel. Massa was a distant seventh in the standings, but that does not do justice to his recovery in the latter part of the year.
Ferrari traditionally announce their driver pairing for the following season at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza. In 2012, the team delayed the announcement to give Massa more time to prove himself, which he duly did to the satisfaction of team management. Massa was retained for another season, but his new contract runs only to the end of 2013. If he is to stay past the end of this year, he will need to deliver results throughout the season to demonstrate that he is worthy of a place in Formula One’s most famous team – and that of course means he must win races, something he has not done since 2008.
Massa is a capable driver. That much was made clear in 2008 when he crossed the line in Brazil as world champion, only to have it snatched away by Lewis Hamilton who made up a position in the last corner of the last lap. Massa has won 11 races and started from pole position 15 times in his 11 year career. But past results and potential are no longer enough to secure a place at Ferrari. Massa must make himself indispensable to Ferrari, and to do that he must win races in 2013. If not, his time at Ferrari will surely come to an end.