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Massa no longer has incentive to help Alonso

Felipe Massa lets Fernando Alonso through during the 2013 Italian Grand Prix (Image: Ferrari)

Felipe Massa lets Fernando Alonso through during the 2013 Italian Grand Prix (Image: Ferrari)

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.

Massa chasing a seat at Lotus

Felipe Massa is chasing after Kimi Raikkonen's seat at Lotus (Image: Charles Coates/Lotus F1)

Felipe Massa is chasing after Kimi Raikkonen‘s seat at Lotus (Image: Charles Coates/Lotus F1)

Since Felipe Massa’s announcement last week that he will be leaving Ferrari at the end of 2013, speculation has grown over his future in Formula  One. While he is certainly being soundly beaten by his team-mate, Fernando Alonso, he remains a quick and experienced driver, which makes him an attractive option for any team going forward.

Of the top teams, only McLaren and Lotus have yet to finalise their 2014 driver line-ups. At McLaren, Jenson Button‘s future is not yet contractually secure, but he is not expected to be going anywhere at the end of 2013. Button has expressed his wish to stay with McLaren repeatedly over the last three seasons, and McLaren have had only good things to say about Button, which suggests the relationship is likely to continue.

At Lotus, however, there is at least one seat available now that Kimi Raikkonen has signed for Ferrari. There are rumours that Nico Hulkenberg could be set to take Raikkonen’s place alongside Romain Grosjean next season, but as yet nothing is confirmed. Grosjean himself does not yet have a contract for 2014, which could result in an entirely new driver line-up at Lotus next year.

In the week since Massa announced his Ferrari exit, he has confirmed that he and his manager have made contact with Lotus and McLaren, among other teams, but that it is with Lotus that the talks are positive.

Mass told Globo Esporte, “We are negotiating,.. In my opinion, Lotus has a competitive car, which is what I want.

“We are having many conversations to try to find a way, not only for me but for Lotus, to continue with a good car.”

Last week, Lotus team principal Eric Boullier confirmed that he is considering Massa for next season, saying to RMC Sport: “Felipe Massa is also available, so he is inevitably on the list.

“We are the only team left with a good seat available, and so inevitably this will affect many people.”

An announcement from Lotus regarding their 2014 driver line-up is expected soon.

Massa rates Alonso above Schumacher

Felipe Massa has struggled to match Fernando Alonso at Ferrari (Image: Ferrari)

Felipe Massa has struggled to match Fernando Alonso at Ferrari (Image: Ferrari)

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.

Massa's first team-mate at Ferrari was Michael Schumacher in 2006 (Image: Ferrari)

Massa’s first team-mate at Ferrari was Michael Schumacher in 2006 (Image: Ferrari)

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.

Who will drive for Lotus in 2014?

Lotus have yet to announce their 2014 driver line-up (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus GP)

Lotus have yet to announce their 2014 driver line-up (Andrew Ferraro/Lotus GP)

Of the five top teams in Formula One – Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, McLaren and Lotus – only Lotus have said nothing about their 2014 driver line-ups. McLaren haven’t confirmed Jenson Button yet for next season, but that is a mere formality now that Kimi Raikkonen has signed for Ferrari.

Raikkonen’s departure from Lotus at the end of this season presents a problem for the team from Enstone. They still have Romain Grosjean, who is doing a reasonable job this season, but he is relatively inexperienced. Lotus will want to have a driver who they believe can challenge for the World Championship, and Grosjean (who has yet to win a race) is not at that level at this early stage in his career.

So Lotus are looking for at least one driver for 2014, and they would ideally like to select their team leader from within the ranks of current F1 drivers. They therefore have a few options. Most prominently, now that he’s out of a drive at Ferrari, Felipe Massa is on the market. Massa has won 11 races and narrowly missed out on the Drivers’ Championship in 2008. The experience of fighting for the title could make Massa an attractive option for Lotus, although he has not shown that level of performance in the five subsequent seasons.

Another strong candidate is Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg, who has long been rumoured to be on Ferrari’s radar, but missed out on a 2014 Ferrari drive to Kimi Raikkonen. Hulkenberg came into Formula One with Williams in 2010 after winning the 2009 GP2 series comfortably and impressed in his debut F1 season, taking pole position at the Brazilian Grand Prix. But he was not retained in 2011 by Williams, who preferred to take advantage of the sponsorship that came with Venezuelan Pastor Maldonado.

After spending 2011 as Force India’s test and reserve driver, Hulkenberg landed a race drive at Force India for 2012, but then jumped ship to Sauber in 2013. He has not yet had a chance to show what he can do in a properly competitive car, but has consistently delivered strong performances in each of his three F1 seasons. He is considered a champion of the future and is expected to drive for Ferrari at some point in his career.

Hulkenberg would provide not only talent and a bit of experience to Lotus, but he would also probably be cheaper than a driver of Massa’s success, as he has not yet won a race or even stood on the podium. Lotus could therefore spend more money on developing their car and take advantage of Hulkenberg’s talents at the same time.

Other drivers who have yet to make decisions about 2014 are Force India’s Adrian Sutil and Paul Di Resta. Sutil has 102 Grands Prix under his belt, and is well regarded in Formula One. He has only ever driven for Force India (in 2007, he drove for Spyker, which became Force India the following season) and has a good relationship with the team, which suggests that he is likely to extend his Force India contract past the end of 2013.

Di Resta has said right from the beginning of 2013 that he is looking to move to a more competitive team. He looked quick in the early part of this season, before Force India started to struggle when Pirelli revised their 2013 tyres, and recorded an impressive fourth-place finish at the Bahrain Grand Prix.

Heikki Kovalainen, who has won a race for McLaren and is currently assisting Caterham with the development of their car, is probably the most sought-after driver to not have a current F1 race seat, and it seems highly unlikely that he will remain on the sidelines again in 2014. If Lotus were to offer Kovalainen a drive for 2014, he would surely grab it with both hands.

Lotus has two test drivers. Jerome D’Ambrosio raced in Formula One for Virgin (now Marussia) in 2011 and made one appearance for Lotus in 2012, standing in for the banned Romain Grosjean at the Italian Grand Prix, where D’Ambrosio finished 13th. Davide Valsecchi, the other Lotus test driver, is the current GP2 series champion, but has yet to make his Formula One debut. It seems unlikely that either D’Ambrosio or Valsecchi will take the step up to a Lotus race seat in 2014. It is more likely that Lotus will seek a more experienced driver currently on the grid.

However, for the second Lotus seat anything is possible. Romain Grosjean has not been confirmed for 2014, which means his seat is potentially up for grabs. If Lotus decide to replace Grosjean, they could well look to a less experienced driver as a development plan for future seasons. Whatever decision is made, it is likely to be confirmed before the end of the season, as next year’s major regulation changes make it necessary for teams to start 2014 preparations as early as possible, and that includes integrating new drivers into their organisations.

The story of Raikkonen and Ferrari

Kimi Raikkonen won his first race for Ferrari, the 2007 Australian Grand Prix (Image: Ferrari)

Kimi Raikkonen won his first race for Ferrari, the 2007 Australian Grand Prix (Image: Ferrari)

Kimi Raikkonen will rejoin Ferrari on a two-year deal from 2014. This marks the only time in Ferrari’s history that it has re-signed a previous Ferrari World Champion for more than a one-off race. Raikkonen therefore has a unique second bite at the Ferrari apple – a chance to take an already successful history with the famous Italian team and make it even more successful.

Raikkonen joined Ferrari in 2007 from McLaren, replacing the retiring Michael Schumacher. Raikkonen’s team-mate at Ferrari throughout his first stint with the team was Felipe Massa, the same man Raikkonen is now replacing on his return to Maranello. In his very first race for Ferrari, the 2007 Australian Grand Prix, Raikkonen took pole position, set the fastest lap and won the race. It was a stunning statement of intent, particularly considering that he was attempting to fill the biggest shoes of all in F1, those of Michael Schumacher.

The rest of the 2007 season was not so dominant for Raikkonen. He would not win another race until the French Grand Prix, which was the eighth round of the season, and by then it looked like the title would go to one of the McLaren drivers (double World Champion Fernando Alonso or super-quick rookie Lewis Hamilton) or Raikkonen’s own team-mate, Felipe Massa. But the win in France was just the beginning of a charge back to the front for Raikkonen in the second half of the season.

Raikkonen won again at the British Grand Prix, but retired at the next round at the Nurburgring. He then had a string of podium finishes – second at the Hungarian and Turkish Grands Prix and third at Ferrari’s home race at Monza. The next race was at Spa, where Raikkonen had already won twice before during his time at McLaren. He made it three wins in at Spa in 2007, which brought him to within 13 points of championship-leader Lewis Hamilton with three rounds left in the season.

Although Raikkonen had been inching closer to the top of the standings throughout the second half of the 2007 season, his title hopes suffered a major blow at the Japanese Grand Prix, where Hamilton won and Raikkonen came third. He was now 17 points behind with two races remaining in the season. In 2007, 10 points were awarded for a race win, 8 for second place and 6 for third. That meant Raikkonen had to win at least one of the remaining races and could finish no lower than second at the other race in order to even have a chance at the title.

Raikkonen made sure he did everything he could to secure the title. He won in China while Hamilton beached his McLaren in the gravel at the pit entry, his tyres too worn to allow him to take the sharp left-hander at the start of the pit lane. So Raikkonen went to the final race in Brazil 7 points behind Hamilton and three points behind Alonso. Raikkonen was in with a chance, but he was certainly an outsider.

For the final race of the season in Brazil, Raikkonen qualified third, behind Felipe Massa and Lewis Hamilton. He surged past Hamilton at the start and ran second to team-mate Massa until the second round of pitstops. Raikkonen managed to pass Massa in the second round of stops, although Ferrari would surely have engineered a position change otherwise anyway, as Raikkonen was the only Ferrari driver in with a chance of the title.

From that point on, all Raikkonen could do was win the race and hope Hamilton and Alonso did not score sufficient points to beat him to the title. Hamilton had handed Raikkonen a clear advantage early in the race when he slowed significantly after encountering a problem in his car. He was able to reset the onboard computer in his McLaren which allowed him to get back up to racing speed, but he was 18th by then and a long way out of the points. Alonso ran third throughout the race after passing Hamilton on the opening lap.

For Hamilton to win the title, he needed to finish fifth with Alonso no higher than third. As it happened, Alonso finished third, but Hamilton could do no better than seventh, despite fighting through the field superbly. That made Raikkonen World Champion by a single point from Hamilton and Alonso, who finished equal on points.

For Raikkonen, winning the World Championship in 2007 was the high-point of his Ferrari career, although he would remain with the Scuderia for another two seasons. In 2008, he seemed to be lacking motivation and was outpaced by Felipe Massa. Raikkonen won just two races in 2008, in Malaysia and Spain, compared to six for Massa, and the Finn went on to finish a distant third in the Drivers’ Championship, while Massa lost out on the title by a single point.

Raikkonen's final (to-date) Ferrari victory came at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix (Image: Ferrari)

Raikkonen’s final (to-date) Ferrari victory came at the 2009 Belgian Grand Prix (Image: Ferrari)

2009 saw the unlikely triumph of Brawn GP and the rise to prominence of Red Bull Racing, while Ferrari had a tough season. The Ferrari F60 was off the front-running pace, so much so that it delivered just one victory all season. The win went to Kimi Raikkonen at Spa, his fourth and to-date last Belgian Grand Prix victory, and came at a time when Ferrari were still reeling from Felipe Massa’s horrific accident in Hungary just two races before.

Raikkonen stood on the podium in Ferrari colours for the final time at the next round at Monza, when he finished third in the Italian Grand Prix. At the end of the season, Raikkonen was a distant sixth in the championship with 48 points, marginally more than half the tally of 2009 World Champion Jenson Button.

At the end of 2009, Ferrari and Raikkonen parted ways. Ferrari wanted to sign Fernando Alonso and were not willing to split with Felipe Massa, and as a result they chose to buy Raikkonen out of the rest of his contract. Raikkonen reportedly looked for other drives in Formula One before turning his attention to other racing series. He spent 2010 and 2011 competing without much success in the World Rally Championship. In 2011, he also tried his hand at NASCAR, making appearances in the Camping World Truck Series and the Nationwide Series.

Throughout his time away from F1, rumours of a return persisted. In advance of the 2010 season, he was linked with possible drives for McLaren, Mercedes Toyota, although none of those came to fruition. Rumours surfaced of a return to Formula One with Renault in 2011, but those also proved false. Ultimately he would return with Lotus (previously Renault) in 2012, the team with which he won the 2012 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix and finished the season third in the standings, behind Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.

Raikkonen has remained with Lotus for 2013, and is currently fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, 88 points behind championship leader Vettel and realistically out of the title race. He won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, but has not stood on the top step of the podium since.

In 2014, the Raikkonen-Ferrari story will resume, after it was confirmed today that Raikkonen re-signed by the famous Italian team. He will have a chance of becoming the fourth driver in history to win multiple championships for Ferrari, after Alberto Ascari, Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher. He will also provide followers of Formula One with the opportunity to watch what could become a great Ferrari rivalry, when he lines up on the grid in the same car as Fernando Alonso next season.

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