It has been generally assumed for some time that Felipe Massa will not be at Ferrari in 2013. The Brazilian driver’s contract expires at the end of this year, and his performance in 2011 was dismal, so it seemed logical that Ferrari would look to replace him.
Ferrari have been in contact with at least one other driver – Mark Webber. The Australian recently confirmed that he had spoken to the famous Italian team, but he ultimately decided to remain with Red Bull. It is possible that there are other drivers in contention for the second Ferrari seat, but nothing has been confirmed as yet.
Massa had an appalling 2011 season, never finishing higher than fifth while team-mate Alonso stood on the podium ten times and won the British Grand Prix. There was speculation that Massa might lose his seat for 2012 despite having a contract, but Ferrari rallied around him.
2012 has seen Massa return to reasonable form. After a difficult start to the season, he put in a strong drive to finish sixth in Monaco. The following two races in Montreal and Valencia were disappointing due to strategy errors and on-track incidents, but Massa produced his best result since 2010 at the British Grand Prix last weekend, finishing fourth from fifth on the grid.
If his resurgence in form continues, Ferrari will surely have to consider re-signing Massa for 2013. He has been with the team since 2006 and is therefore very familiar with the people and processes at Maranello. It’s up to him now to deliver the results expected from a Ferrari driver.
Felipe Massa has endured a lot of criticism in the last 18 months. And perhaps deservedly so. His performance in 2011 fell far short of what was required, and the first few races of 2012 were much the same. But he may be coming right.
Monaco was Massa’s first competitive race of 2012. After qualifying seventh, he finished a strong sixth, very much on the pace of the leaders. But that was just one race and it was at Monaco, the most unusual of all tracks on the calendar.
In Canada, Massa’s newfound form continued with sixth in qualifying. In the race, he was immediately quick, passing Nico Rosberg soon after a good start. His early progress was ended by a spin in the first corner of lap six – his own mistake. Unfortunately, the spin damaged his tyres, which caused Ferrari to change his strategy and ultimately ended his challenge for good points. He finished tenth.
Massa’s spin in Canada is a good sign. It shows that he is pushing hard. He is not tentative, not cautious, not lacking confidence. Rather, he is going for it aggressively on the track, giving everything he has in the pursuit of results. That attitude is far more significant than his fairly mediocre finishing position.
Confidence and commitment are everything in racing. Massa seems to be re-discovering his comfort zone, and it shows on the track. If this trend continues, Massa should move steadily up the grid throughout the season. Ferrari could certainly use him alongside Alonso at the front of the field.
Felipe Massa has been under more pressure than perhaps any other driver in Formula One this season. The Brazilian driver has not won a race since 2008 and has not stood on the podium since 2010. Prior to Monaco, Massa had scored only two points this season, while team mate Fernando Alonso was joint championship leader on 61 points. Massa had a point to prove.
And prove it he did. He didn’t win, stand on the podium, start on pole or even finish ahead of Alonso, but Massa put together a weekend that was more worthy of a Ferrari drive than anything we’ve seen from him all season.
He qualified seventh, just a tenth of a second behind Alonso, to set himself up for a strong race day. And in the race, Massa showed he has the pace to compete at the front of the field. He put Alonso under pressure in the early phase of the race, and after Alonso passed Hamilton in the pitstops, Massa pressured the McLaren driver to the finish.
At the end of the race, Massa was sixth, just 6.195 seconds behind the victorious Mark Webber and over 35 seconds clear of seventh placed Paul di Resta. And there was nothing fortunate about his result. He was on the pace from the start, and harrying those in front of him throughout the race.
Is the competitive Felipe Massa back? It’s difficult to judge from Monaco, due to the unique nature of the twisty street circuit. The Canadian Grand Prix in just under two weeks’ time will be a better indication of his form. Hopefully for Massa, Ferrari and Formula One, the progress will continue.
Formula One teams finally had a completely dry session this morning, with bright sunshine in Melbourne for the third practice session of the weekend. So Massa, Senna, Vettel and Schumacher took full advantage by spinning under braking.
In the case of Massa, it looks like he may have put a wheel on the grass in turn 15. Again. He did that yesterday too in turn 9. Senna also lost it in the slow turn 15, which is quite easy to do, according to Jaime Alguersuari who is commentating for BBC.
World Champion Sebastian Vettel lost the back end of his Red Bull in turn 6. Vettel has not been happy with his car throughout the weekend. The team now has very little time to prepare for qualifying. Vettel managed to produce some magic in qualifying last season. Can he do it again today?
Schumacher lost his Mercedes under braking for turn 9. There didn’t seem to be an obvious reason for the spin. Perhaps his DRS stuck open, which would certainly cause instability at the rear of the car. Nonetheless, the Mercedes is looking quick, so Schumacher and Rosberg should be competitive in qualifying.
Lewis Hamilton topped the times for McLaren, highlighting the pace of the MP4-27. Romain Grosjean was second for Lotus, which suggests that the E20 is working well.
Qualifying starts in about 45 minutes. All the indications so far suggest that it will be close. It’s quite possible that some big names will not make it into Q3. The Ferraris have looked out of sorts since the beginning of pre-season testing. Alonso and Massa will have to produce something special to be competitive. At this stage, predictions of pole are difficult, although Hamilton and Button have been looking very comfortable in the McLarens.
HRT have announced that Narain Karthikeyan will be their second driver for 2012. The Indian driver joins Spaniard Pedro De La Rosa at the struggling team.
Team principal Luis Pérez-Sala said, “I am pleased to count with Narain for this season, as he will contribute continuity and stability. He is a quick, intuitive and secure driver who met his expectations despite a lack of continuity last year.”
Based on Karthikeyan’s half-season for HRT last year, the only continuity and stability Karthikeyan could possibly be providing is financial.
Karthikeyan, India’s first Formula 1 driver, drove for Jordan in 2005, finishing fourth at the 6-car US Grand Prix, but was not retained for 2006. He was signed by HRT in 2011, but only completed in 8 races before he was replaced by Daniel Ricciardo. A one-race return for the inaugural Indian Grand Prix saw Karthikeyan outpace Ricciardo comfortably, which could not have harmed his chances of a return to the team.
Karthikeyan effectively replaces Tonio Liuzzi, who had a contract with HRT for 2012. The team is known to be struggling for funding, and the sponsorship Karthikeyan brings will be welcome. It is a pity for Liuzzi, as he worked hard to help HRT to move forward in 2011, but ultimately HRT’s driver decision has been a financial one.
Ferrari’s Felipe Massa has recently lashed out at pay drivers in an interview with Totalrace, saying “It’s an absurd situation and I don’t think it’s good for F1 and especially the young drivers. Even if you get very good results in the formulas below, you either have to be lucky or have money in order to get a seat.”
While Massa certainly has a point, a Formula 1 team is ultimately a business, and has to make ends meet. HRT chooses to secure some of their funding from driver sponsors. Whether or not the team can move forward with such a strategy remains to be seen.
Four of Formula 1’s top drivers will be out of contract with their teams at the end of 2012. This is likely to generate a fair amount of speculation during the season, at least until the futures of these drivers and teams are decided. The drivers are:
Mark Webber – Red Bull
Webber has kept his contract on a year-by-year basis with Red Bull for the past few seasons. Well-regarded in the paddock, his gritty style and determination have won him a fair amount of success. He was in with a chance of winning the Drivers’ Championship in 2010, but disappointed in 2011 as he struggled to adapt to the new Pirelli tyres. If he doesn’t have a better 2012, Red Bull may be tempted to replace him. Lewis Hamilton has been suggested as a potential future team-mate for Sebastian Vettel at Red Bull
Felipe Massa – Ferrari
Massa had a very strong 2008, in which he lost out in the Drivers’ Championship to Lewis Hamilton on the final lap of the final race. A massive accident in 2009 saw him out of action for the second half of the season, and since returning in 2010 he has not won a race. Massa was obviously the second driver at Ferrari in 2011, and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has more than hinted that Massa has only the 2012 season to prove himself.
Possible replacements at Ferrari include Robert Kubica, who is rumoured to have a Ferrari test lined up in June 2012, Mark Webber, Nico Rosberg, Jenson Button and Sergio Perez.
Lewis Hamilton – McLaren
Hamilton has proven himself to be one of the great talents of Formula 1. Runner-up in his first season in 2007, World Champion in 2008, and ever-present at the front of the field, Lewis has to be among the most sought-after drivers in the business. His contract with McLaren comes to and end at the end of 2012, and McLaren will be keen to retain him.
Hamilton has been seen talking with Christian Horner of Red Bull, and Horner has openly admitted that he would be happy to have Hamilton in his team. The potential pairing of Vettel and Hamilton is mouth-watering. Domination awaits for such a driver line-up.
Michael Schumacher – Mercedes
Schumacher agreed a three year deal with Mercedes when he returned in 2010. 2012 is the last of those three years, and so far the seven-time World Champion has, by his standards, had no success at all. With no wins and not even a podium so far, he can only view his comeback as incomplete at this stage.
Schumacher, like all top sportsmen, craves success. If he feels that it is within his grasp beyond the end of 2012 and with Mercedes, he will be tempted to stay in Formula 1. Mercedes team principal Ross Brawn has already stated that he would be happy to extend Schumacher’s contract, and Schumacher has not ruled out the possibility. It does not seem likely, however, that he would move to another team. It looks like it is Mercedes or retirement for the German.
Ferrari is the oldest, most successful, most glamorous team in Formula 1. Never too far from the front of the grid, the cars in red play a larger part than most in making Formula 1 the spectacle that it is. Ferrari can never be counted out, and the team from Maranello is due a championship.
2011 was not a good year for Ferrari. Only the brilliance of Fernando Alonso spared the Scuderia some serious embarrassment. Felipe Massa’s performance was probably more representative of the car. He finished sixth in the championship, never finishing a race higher than fifth. Alonso won the British Grand Prix, to give the legions of Ferrari fans something to shout about. It was the only success for Ferrari in 2011.
But 2012 is an interesting prospect. The blown diffuser, which was so well developed by Red Bull, and helped them to their second consecutive Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships, has been outlawed for this year. It was arguably the difference between Ferrari and the Red Bulls and McLarens, as demonstrated at Silverstone, when the FIA declared the blown diffuser illegal, and Alonso won the race. When the FIA subsequently reversed the decision, the Ferraris were once again off the pace of the Red Bulls and McLarens.
The success at Silverstone in 2011 showed the fundamental pace of the Ferrari. The car was generally quick, and if the new Ferrari is to be an evolution of the last one, then that pace should carry over into the 2012 car.
With Alonso in the car, anything is possible. If the Ferrari is good enough, he can win the championship. Look out for Ferrari.