In the latter part of the past three seasons, we’ve seen Felipe Massa dutifully helping Fernando Alonso in his quest to win the World Championship. Massa has given up positions to Alonso, been the victim of grid penalties deliberately incurred by Ferrari to push Alonso forward on the grid, and generally been the epitome of the supportive team-mate and loyal Ferrari driver. But now he’s leaving, and that could all change.
The reason Massa has helped Alonso over the past few years is straight-forward: it’s been good for Ferrari, which has been good for Massa. Put simply, Massa’s loyalty has helped him to stay at Ferrari, which has been a very good thing for him as Ferrari have been producing competitive cars during the period he’s been assisting Alonso. But now, Massa does not need to impress the powers that be at Ferrari. He’s not fighting for his Ferrari drive anymore. Now he’s trying to find a competitive drive for 2014. And that means he has to impress all the other team bosses in Formula One. Playing second fiddle to Alonso will no longer help his cause.
A Formula One team boss will hire a driver he believes will deliver results for the team. In evaluating a potential driver who is driving for another team, a team boss will look at how the driver compares to his team-mate. It’s the only reliable measure of the extent to which a driver can get the most out of his car and himself. In the case of Massa, a potential employer must look at his record against Alonso and conclude that Massa is not delivering.
So Massa has to show himself off. He has seven races left as a Ferrari driver in which to use a very competitive car to deliver results. If he succeeds in doing that, he is quite likely to get a competitive drive for 2014. Lotus are hiring, and they’ve mentioned Massa as an option. Their other prominent option is Nico Hulkenberg, who is performing miracles compared to his Sauber team-mate, Esteban Gutierrez. Massa has to prove that he is the better option for Lotus in order to secure the drive.
So it is fairly likely that Massa will display new levels of motivation on the track, as he makes a bid to extend his Formula One career. That is at odds with Ferrari’s need to give Alonso all the help he can get in his bid to win the title, and that presents Massa with a choice: does he help his Ferrari team, to whom he has been so loyal for so long? Or does he act in his own self-interest and give his all to beat Alonso on the track in a bid to secure the most competitive drive possible for 2014? Time will tell.
In all likelihood, Massa’s conundrum will not be present for very long. Sebastian Vettel is so far ahead in the Drivers’ Championship that Alonso is likely to be out of the running in fairly short order. In the event that Alonso can no longer win the title, there could then be an interesting reversal of roles at Ferrari. Would Fernando Alonso, one of the toughest and most competitive drivers in the world, help Massa to achieve results on the track so that he can secure a drive with a competitive team?
Alonso said in January this year that he would be willing to help Massa to win the title, if it came to that. Massa cannot win the 2013 title, but it’s possible that he could drive for Lotus next season, if Lotus consider him sufficiently competitive. Alonso arguably owes Massa for all the assistance he has received in the last few years. Perhaps he will pay back some of that debt in the latter part of this season.