Felipe Massa is in the unusual position of having been team-mate to three world champions – Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso. He partnered Schumacher during the German’s last year as a Ferrari driver before he retired for the first time, then raced alongside Kimi Raikkonen for three seasons, and has spent the last four years as team-mate to Alonso. He therefore has some unique insights into how these drivers compare to each other.
Massa’s record against his three team-mates tells an interesting story. While partnering Schumacher, Massa took 3 pole positions, stood on the podium and won twice. Crucially, both of his wins were in races that Schumacher finished, illustrating that he was capable of beating Schumacher at least occasionally. But Schumacher was clearly stronger over the season, winning seven races on his way to second place in the Drivers’ Championship, while Massa finished third, 41 points behind his team-mate.
Of his three team-mates, Massa has beaten only Raikkonen over the course of a full season. In 2008, Massa lost out on the title by a single point to Lewis Hamilton while Raikkonen (who had won the 2007 championship for Ferrari) was 22 points behind Massa in third place.
Alonso arrived on the scene in 2010, at the same time that Massa returned after missing the latter part of 2009 due to injuries sustained in his horrific Hungarian Grand Prix qualifying crash. Against Alonso, Massa has failed to win a single race in almost four full seasons, while Alonso has scored 11 wins over the same period. Massa has also not taken a single pole position while Alonso has four during their time as team-mates. Alonso has twice finished runner-up in the Drivers’ Championship since joining Ferrari (and looks likely to do so for a third time this season), while Massa has not finished a season better than sixth as Alonso’s team-mate.
It’s easy (and tempting) to blame Massa’s apparent non-performance on his 2009 accident. But what if Alonso is just that good? What if Massa has maintained the level of performance that saw him miss out on the title in 2008 by a single point, but Alonso is just so far ahead that Massa looks slow by comparison?
Massa’s own opinion on the matter is fascinating, and reveals that he considers Alonso’s superiority to be the major factor in their relative performances as team-mates. He told Sky Sports F1‘s Martin Brundle:
“For sure I’ve had some tough times as well with strong team-mates. The one [I] was suffering more [against] was Alonso. I think maybe he’s more complete.
“Schumacher was very, very good. He was amazing and a very complete driver as well. But I think maybe Alonso is even more perfect.”
In 2014, Alonso will once again be paired with driver who is considered one of the best in the sport, when Kimi Raikkonen joins Ferrari. If Massa is correct that Alonso is even more complete than Schumacher, then Raikkonen might struggle against Alonso. After all, Massa did outpace Raikkonen in 2008, but he has never come close to beating Alonso over a season.