There is a lot of attention on Felipe Massa at the moment, despite the fact that he is not a contender for the World Championship.
He has been the subject of speculation about whether he will retain his drive next year, while recently he has received encouraging words from Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, which is a mixed blessing, like a chairman’s “vote of confidence” in a football manager.
The Ferrari website has identified his “key role” in the next three races and he himself has said that “the best thing I can do to help Ferrari’s and Fernando’s aspirations.”
Ferrari are 92 points behind Red Bull with 129 points available. So if Red Bull score an average of 13 points in each of the final races Ferrari cannot win the title. This is highly likely given that Red Bull has comfortably averaged 26 points a race this season.
So Massa is driving now for Alonso’s championship. It’s not a racing driver’s normal objective and it must be hard to find the motivation to put it all on the line for a team mate who’s made your life difficult all year.
If he can take points away from Alonso’s rivals, particularly the Red Bulls, then it gives Alonso more of a chance of winning the title.
Korea is a bit of an unknown, but it looks like it could be good for Ferrari. If that were the case then Massa’s role would be important, a 1-2 finish would really shake things up. Brazil will favour the Red Bulls, but Massa is normally outstanding around Interlagos and can clearly play a role.
I’m in the process of pulling together the text for my end of season book and it’s fascinating to look at the arc of Massa’s season from his emotional return from injury, to his cautious words about Alonso at the Ferrari pre season event in Madonna di Campiglio, to his feelings after outqualifying Alonso in Bahrain then after being beaten by him in the race. He was then subjected to Alonso’ aggressive pass in the pit lane in China and then we had the infamous team order to hand the win in Germany to the Spaniard.
Massa is a confidence driver, as good an example of one as you will find in Grand Prix racing. When his confidence is up, as it was in 2008, he’s amazing and can perform incredible feats. His race engineer, Rob Smedley, must take a lot of credit for that as he is not only a superb engineer, but he’s also like a motivational coach in his driver’s ear. He’s lifted Massa’s spirit to many of his great achievements.
All drivers are affected by confidence to a degree, but the hard ones, like Alonso and Schumacher back in his day, seem to perform whatever is going on around them, of course they make mistakes, but their performance doesn’t fluctuate due to confidence.
It’s been clear for most of Massa’s season that Alonso has simply “done his head in”, as the saying goes in F1. Obviously the final straw was Hockenheim, but he’d had his head down before then. As with Schumacher’s form this year, the blame is being laid on the tyres, in Massa’s case his struggles to deal with the harder compounds, but his real problem starts not with a “T” but with an “A”.
It will be interesting to see the response he gets in Sao Paolo as Brazilian colleagues tell me the Brazilian fans were very disappointed in him for moving over in Germany and he will be well aware of that, having spent a lot of time over there since then. They loved him for his fighting spirit in 2006 and 2008, but they were angry that he capitulated in Hockenheim.
He’s operating in a tough environment; in team mate match-ups among the leading drivers, Massa’s defecit to Alonso in qualifying is one of the largest. Most of the time Alonso has had two or three tenths on him, sometimes more. Although they start again from zero next season, it’s hard to see why 2011 will turn out any different from 2010.
Ferrari has stated clearly that Massa is to be retained next season, he signed a new two year deal in the summer, although Italian sources insist that it’s 2011 with an option on Ferrari’s side for 2012.
He’s a driver who looks like he needs a change of air to me, but there isn’t anywhere else for him to go and you don’t leave Ferrari out of choice.