Felipe Massa is playing an interesting game at the moment, with regards to his team mate for next season, Fernando Alonso.
First at a lunch for Brazilian journalists yesterday in Sao Paolo, he claimed that Alonso must have known about the Singapore crash plot, even though he was cleared of involvement by the FIA, “Fernando knew, ” he said. “Of course he knew, I’m 100% certain of that. In a team it is impossible not to know the strategy of the other driver.”
Many of the drivers say the same thing privately, but have not wanted to say it publicly. Massa said it and he does not deny he said it, even though he did issue a clarification via the Ferrari website.
“What I’ve said is the outcome of a hunch I’ve had and is not based on any concrete evidence,” he said. “The FIA World Council announced that there was no indication that Fernando may have been informed of what had happened and I respect this outcome. Obviously I’m very disappointed about what transpired last year in Singapore: I have already said several times what I thought about it and now it’s time to close that chapter and to look to the future. What is certain is that this episode will not marr in any way the relationship I’ll have with Fernando when we will be teammates.”
Under the circumstances Massa might have been expected to keep his hunches to himself in the interest of team harmony for next year. But it looks like it isn’t going to be that kind of relationship and he isn’t going to play that kind of game.
Massa knows that Alonso is a very different beast as a team mate from Raikkonen and he knows that many people expect him to lose the inevitable psychological struggle with Alonso. McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh offered Ferrari a piece of advice on how to manage the Spaniard last week, “I’m sure as long as Fernando is winning everything will be fine.”
The move to Ferrari is such a big thing for Alonso and has been so long in the making, that he is sure to try to take control. Massa is fast enough to trouble him and they both know that. The key question; is Massa strong enough in the head? And that is what we will find out next season. Those close to him say he most definitely is. What’s intriguing about Massa’s comments here is that he wants to show Alonso from the outset that he is no pushover and he has no qualms about probing Alonso’s weak points, such as the doubt over his involvement in the crash scandal and thus, by extension, his reputation.
It is easy to dismiss Massa’s outburst as nothing more than an aftershock from the frustration he feels about losing the world championship because of a race whose outcome was ‘fixed’. Maybe, but there is definitely more to it than that, after all here he is implicating his new team mate in that fix; quite a tough statement at this stage and an uncomfortable welcome to Alonso.
This is great stuff, I love this psychological business between drivers, it’s so fundamental to the racer’s instinct and is such a window on the soul. The key is to play a hard game, but without damaging your reputation.
Also said at the lunch, but less widely reported, was a comment about how Alonso will have to fit in with the Ferrari way, not dictate how things should be,
“It will have to be Fernando who adapts himself to the Ferrari style and not the other way around, ” said Massa. “I know how Ferrari works, he has to learn. If I was going to Renault it would be up to me to adapt to them.”
Massa also said that if it had been up to him he would have been behind the wheel this weekend in Brazil, “I feel ready to race and if they asked me to I’d take the wheel. But the risks involved in another incident are very high.”
This is no surprise. On the night of Massa’s accident I spoke to a London brain surgeon and he said to me then that if Massa was his patient he would not let him drive again for six months because if he had another accident it could be very dangerous.
I suspect that Massa wanted to race again this season because he wanted to make sure he had his feet back under the table at Ferrari before Alonso’s arrival.
Their partnership will make for some great entertainment and is sure to be very successful on the track, but it is crystal clear from this episode that it is going to take some very strong management to keep the ship on an even keel.