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.
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.
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.
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.