Fire up Felipe Massa… Or you’ll be fired!

As I have discussed elsewhere, Formula One driver Felipe Massa is under considerable pressure to keep his seat with Ferrari. The latest race at the Malaysian Grand Prix only served to further intensify the rumours and speculation regarding his position within the team. More to the point and of particular concern for Massa, is that a clear candidate emerged as a suitable replacement… the outstanding and most unexpected performance from Sauber driver Sergio Perez.

Essentially, Massa has known for some time that he needs to improve. With two ordinary seasons in 2010 and 2011, and with his contract up for renewal, it was time for Massa to start demonstrating to Ferrari and the F1 community that he was still the capable driver that so nearly won the 2008 Drivers’ title. However, Massa’s start to the 2012 season has been anything but ideal. A very poor showing in the Australian Grand Prix saw numerous replacements linked to his seat and outcries for his immediate axing from Ferrari. Indeed he was at times 2-3 seconds off Alonso’s pace in the same car (in a sport where the gap is usually tenths of a second) and generally looked sluggish all weekend.

On to Malaysia where a very concerned Ferrari team had provided him with a new chassis to assist in his performances. The result? Another bad showing wherein Massa did improve slightly but was obliterated by the sublime skill and talent of his two-time world champion team-mate Alonso, who won the race. In relation to Massa the gulf was ridiculous, nearly lapping him and being at times 3-5 seconds quicker per lap.

To compound Massa’s woes, Sergio Perez, a driver who has been earmarked as having a possible Ferrari future (he is a Ferrari Academy Driver), drove a stunning and unexpected race. Perez managed to drag the mid-field Sauber car to a near shock victory, pressurised Alonso, set successive fastest laps, and handled both the torrential conditions and the massive speculation about his possible Ferrari drive with consummate ease. This was a career defining second place from Perez, who is only two races into his second season. Quite simply, two drivers seemingly vying for the same Ferrari race seat produced two distinctive displays – the mature, controlled execution not expected of a young driver versus the hallmarks of a no longer front-running driver fading and failing to find what it takes.

In fairness to Felipe, the Ferrari is not a stellar car and in fact is realistically a mid-field runner at best, so he can’t be expected to achieve podiums or wins. He also is not recognised as a strong wet weather driver, so the rain was never going to assist him. Moreover, he is in the inexorable position of having arguably the most complete driver on the grid as his team-mate, a talented racer who could seemingly finish in the points on a wheelie bin. Massa can only ever look second-rate beside Alonso, but for a man who is under pressure and has known of the expectations for the past few seasons, he is not stepping up. Conversely, young drivers like Perez are, and they are making a case for Massa to be ousted sooner rather than later if Ferrari wish to claim consistent points this year.

It is not new in F1 to have a driver under severe pressure to keep his seat early in the season  – we can look back to Jacques Villeneuve in 2005 with Sauber, Rubens Barrichello in 2006 with Honda, or even Michael Schumacher in 2011 with Mercedes who all underwent intense speculation. However, each of these drivers had the excuse of being in new teams (and a return to the grid for Villeneuve and Schumacher), while Massa has been ensconced in the Ferrari team since 2006…he can have no such luxuries and has always known that the coveted Ferrari race seat can also be a poisoned chalice if one fails to deliver.

With a three-week gap between races, Massa has flown to Ferrari HQ to further exam what is going wrong. Time will tell  how much longer Ferrari are prepared to let Massa attempt to rediscover his form and speed, but with an impressive and immensely talented youngster already nestled under the Ferrari parental wing, Massa surely is on borrowed time. Certainly a more polished performance could turn Massa’s season around, but the Ferrari mantra may instead be ‘three strikes and you’re out’…..that’s if Perez isn’t already having the seat fitting for the Ferrari cockpit in time for the third Grand Prix in China.

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  1. A question. Was it Massa who was nearly killed in a spectacular crash a few years ago? If so, that might go some way to explaining his form…loss of nerve. Alonso is by far a superior driver and Massa shouldn’t be really expected to beat him, but he should be challenging a lot higher than what he currently is. So far, Massa, is actually going backwards compared to last season. As a Mark Webber fan, I fear Alonso the most. It seems inevitable that when Alonso is behind Webber, it will only be a matter of time before he passes him. It drives me bonkers. And as for your mate Perez. Where the hell did he come from? I remember the name, but can’t put any significant performance to it. He missed out on the weekend. He would have won his first race if team Sauber had have shown some bottle and a little faith instead of getting the wobbles. The call to interupt Perez’s persuit of Alonso with a timid radio announcement calling for points over the first place bubbly, proved to be very costly indeed.
    Finally, what’s going on with Vettle? The fame, the girls, the coke getting to him?

  2. Correct – Massa had the major incident where he got hit in the head by debris from another car and sat out approximately half of 2009. Not sure if he lost his nerve, otherwise he won’t still be doing this but certainly has underperformed since then. You can understand the patience and support in 2010, but Ferrari have been over-generous in allowing him to continually look very second rate beside Alonso (although of course, most drivers would too). Time for Massa to deliver or be replaced, even though the Ferrari is a pretty average 2012 car so a tough challenge. Perez was a revelation; he had a solid first season in 2011 but Malaysia was simply stunning and showed his potential (barring running off the track when closing in on the win).

    Vettel…well the rather spoilt child may not have all the best toys this year so there could be more tantrums ahead – Webber is also closer in performances to him too, so Vettel may sulk to the team if its not going his way.

  3. Seeing Vettle sulk this year will be quite satasfying.


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Dane Eldridge Tries Hard

Contemporary rugby league surrealism and hot takes on Shane Warne

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