Felipe Massa appeared at the Ferrari Wrooom media event in Madonna di Campiglio, Italy today, knowing that his back is against the wall and 2012 could be his final year with the team if he doesn’t raise his game significantly.
Two lacklustre campaigns have left the Brazilian vulnerable and both Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo and team boss Stefano Domenicali have spelled out that he is fighting to save his job.
Interestingly, the Ferrari website presents a stark picture in its story on Massa’s appearance in Madonna and puts Massa’s position in these terms,
“Felipe Massa’s future depends on what happens now. At the end of 2012, the contract between the Brazilian and Scuderia Ferrari will come to an end, but the pressure that might build with this expiry date does not seem to have unsettled Felipe.”
Massa himself is realistic enough to know that he faces a decisive year. He’s less able to drive around problems in the car than team mate Fernando Alonso and suffered more from the Ferrari’s handling problems on the harder Pirelli tyres last year.
“If we have a good car then I know I can fight for the title, as I have already done in the past,” he said. “Since 2008, nothing has changed: after my accident, I am still the same.”
“I am well aware that in some ways, the first part of the season will be more important than the second,” he added. “When we reach the mid-point of the season, we will talk about my future and see what are the chances of continuing to work with Ferrari: The most important thing is the results: if they are good, making decisions about the future will be much easier and there would be no point in changing a situation that everyone was happy with.”
The absence of a strong alternative candidate plays a part in keeping him there and it will be very interesting to monitor his progress this year and Ferrari’s positioning around alternatives. With the team having given indications that they’d like to get Sebastian Vettel as a long term leader post-Alonso, once Vettel’s contract expires with Red Bull in 2014, the team may be looking for the right person to bridge that gap.
However Alonso indicated today that he plans to keep racing for many years to come,
“I’ve still got many years to come,” he said today. “I’m 30 years old and there are guys racing at 42 or 43, so I guess every year I will improve a little bit.
“Maybe as you get older you lose some speed, but you gain experience so it compensates.”
Massa says that the new Ferrari car is a completely different design concept and finds reason for optimism in both the move to softer Pirelli tyres and the arrival of ultra experienced tyre engineer Hirohide Hamashima from Bridgestone.
Ferrari are certainly giving Massa every chance to come good, but his team mate Fernando Alonso is now in his prime, as he showed last year with some amazing results in an underperforming Ferrari car.
Massa has been in F1 for ten years, six of them with Ferrari. Will there be a seventh?