Felipe Massa is out of a drive in Formula One at the end of 2013. That is, unless he successfully negotiates his way into a race seat for next season. Unfortunately, he seems to be going about it the wrong way, by publicly stating that he’s only interested in teams that will be fighting for victory.
Massa is 32 years old. By F1 driver standards, he’s not young, but neither is he on the verge of retirement. Michael Schumacher proved in the last three seasons that it’s possible to race in Formula One when over the age of 40. So Massa’s got plenty of time left in the sport. What he doesn’t necessarily have is lots of options for future employers.
For 2014, the top teams that are still in the process of working out their 2014 driver line-ups are Lotus and McLaren. It looks increasingly like McLaren will keep their current driver pairing – Jenson Button and Sergio Perez – for at least another season, which leaves just Lotus if Massa insists on a top team. For some time, Lotus have been linked with Nico Hulkenberg, who is certainly talented and is delivering results that exceed the perceived pace of his Sauber. Hulkenberg could well win the race for Kimi Raikkonen’s seat at Lotus, and then where would Massa be?
F1Plus today quoted Massa as saying, “I’m not interested to be part of Formula One just to be there on the grid.” With that statement, he’s effectively cutting off the option of negotiating with Marussia and Caterham, who have just made up the numbers for the four years of their existence. He’s also possibly cutting himself out of negotiating with Force India, Sauber and Williams, who make up the bulk of the midfield. Toro Rosso will not be interested in an established driver, which means they are not an option for Massa.
Finding a place in Formula One is tough. Only a few drivers make it, from an enormous talent pool. There are plenty of quick drivers who have never made it into the top flight, but arguably could have done well had they cracked the nod. So F1 drivers need to appreciate that they are the lucky few and hold on to their F1 careers with both hands. Of those who have left Formula One, only a very small number have made it back on anything resembling a permanent basis. Drivers like Pedro de la Rosa and Nick Heidfeld have tried to break back into F1 race seats a few times and have generally failed to hang on to those seats.
If Massa restricts himself to negotiating with the top teams (i.e. Lotus), he may well find himself out of a drive for 2014. And a year on the sidelines could be a very bad idea if he intends to fight for wins and championships in the future. Let’s not forget that Massa hasn’t won a race since 2008, and has been made to look pathetically slow by Fernando Alonso over the last four seasons. He doesn’t appear to be in the form of his life. The most likely outcome of a year on the sidelines for Massa is retirement from Formula One.
So what Massa needs to do is, first and foremost, make sure he stays in Formula One. If he’s still as good as he was in 2008 (when he lost out on the title by a single point to Lewis Hamilton), then he will show that talent in any car and will ultimately be able to move forward from a less than ideal team. But only if he can stay in the field. Otherwise his place will simply be taken by someone younger, hungrier and better sponsored. And to stay in Formula One, Massa needs to open negotiations with everyone.