The Black Horse
Team: Scuderia Ferrari World Champ Titles: 0 GP wins: 11 Pole positions: 15
It would have been a lie to say that everyone seems to have forgotten about Massa; in the last few months his name was repeatedly mentioned, specifically in terms of: who would be taking his seat in Ferrari? As was the case with Lewis Hamilton or Michael Schumacher, the Brazilian’s contract with the Prancing Horse runs out at the end of the current season, and as it seemed until just recently with McLaren or Mercedes, the Scuderia are not in a rush to make a decision regarding their second driver’s future in the team. But as the last few days have taught us, things can change suddenly in Formula One.
The exclusive Ferrari club is certainly a place where Massa would like to stay, having ran his best races in the red car and nearly claiming the title after a win at the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2008, missing out by a single Championship point to Lewis Hamilton. And also the team has good reasons to keep him, reflecting upon their six years together: he is a supportive team-mate, the other piece of the puzzle. He has been a great pairing for two huge Ferrari egos: firstly Michael Schumacher before his retirement, and currently with Fernando Alonso, who is looking very likely to bring the Horse on the highest podium for the first time in five years. According to Peter Windsor in the anniversary 200. issue of F1 Racing, this season only Ferrari has a harmonious driver balance: “If you’ve got Fernando, the driver you want in the other car is the one who won’t annoy Alonso in any way…” And from the friendly attitude the Spaniard shows towards his team mate (not saying a definite “no” to this partnership as he did with regards to the prospect of Hamilton’s signing up debated earlier this year, for instance), we can assume that is the case.
Windsor also recognises that what makes a great team is “when one driver is slightly slower than the other – and then has the good grace to accept it.” And certainly Felipe is doing just that, with the example of infamous team-order-affair in the 2010 German GP when he let Alonso pass him, because “Fernando is faster than you”. Lets add to the mix the Brazilian’s unquestionable contribution towards a double-title win for Ferrari in 2007 and it is clear to see why the elitist Scuderia has been so far inviting to their no-title driver.
However, since his return in 2010 after a scull fracture in a Hungarian GP the previous year, he has not been able to match his former self, with the current season being arguably the least satisfactory in his career. Having so far scored only 51 points – as opposed to Alonso’s 194 – he turned the repeat of 2007 into a distant dream, with the team now trailing 52 points behind the Constructors’ Championship leaders – Red Bull, and 16 behind McLaren in second, with six races to go and all three teams determined to avoid any more DNFs.
Despite the poor first half of the season, when qualifying into Q3 was a rare occurrence, the last few races have shown why the Brazilian found himself in Ferrari in the first place. His second grid position in Monza lead to a near-podium finish, having eventually lost the 3. to his team mate, whilst the Singapore race was a spectacle of sheer excellence: firstly, when after a puncture at the start he progressed from last position to finish 8., and secondly minding his brilliant car handling when overtaking (and nearly crashing into) Bruno Senna’s Williams on lap 43.
No wonder then that Ferrari are taking their time to conclude their driver line-up for 2013. The pool of potential title-winners is running dry, with the big question marks, such as Webber and Hamilton, already having declared themselves, or – like Michael Schumacher – looking likely to leave the sport altogether, leaving only a few rookies to choose from – which is not good enough for Scuderia, as shown by the example of McLaren’s newest addition, Segio Perez (which can potentially pose another reason for the Prancing Horses to bite their tongue and grind their teeth in 2013). It’s a game of musical chairs for Felipe, but his music in Ferrari might still be playing by next season – because, after all, every self-respecting exclusive club likes to keep their members to themselves.
Update 16/10: Ferrari have extended their contract with Massa for the 2013 season. The decision is said to have been sped up due to the recent allegations that Ferrari have drafted an agreement with Red Bull’s Sebastian Vettel to join the team from 2014. Both teams denied the allegations.