Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has publically backed Felipe Massa as the Brazilian’s future at the Italian team has once again been called into question.
The 32-year-old had a poor start to last season and was in danger of losing his seat for 2013 before the team re-signed him for another year last October following a marked improvement in his results.
This season started off much better for Massa, finishing fourth, fifth and sixth in the first three races before picking up a podium – only his third since 2011 – in Spain but since Monaco, things haven’t gone so smoothly.
He crashed heavily in practice and then hit the barriers at exactly the same point during the race. Crashes in practice in Montreal and Silverstone followed before a spin at the Nurburgring last time out put him out of the race in the early stages.
Massa is clearly a driver who thrives on confidence and the double crash in Monaco appears to have put him on the back foot.
He has still shown flashes of speed, such as topping the times in both Q1 and Q2 at the Nurburgring before the team opted to go for the medium tyres which put him out of contention for a high grid slot.
His starts have been impressive, too, as he made up six places on lap one at Silverstone, from 11th to fifth, before a tyre failure ended his chances of a podium. But he simply hasn’t been as consistent as team-mate Fernando Alonso in the races.
Massa has scored 57 points after nine races, compared to Alonso’s 123. That’s around 46% of Alonso’s total. He only has one podium so far this season, while Alonso has five. However, at this point last year, Massa only had 23 points to Alonso’s 129 (17% of Alonso’s total), so he has improved compared to last year.
Massa and Alonso have been team-mates since 2010. In three full seasons together, Alonso has always finished higher at the end of the season in the drivers’ standings by at least 100 points. In 2010, he finished 108 clear. In 2011, the gap was 139 and in 2012 that gap rose to 156.
In terms of podiums, Alonso has scored 38 since they have been team-mates while Massa has managed just eight. It’s this lack of consistency from Massa which has prevented Ferrari from challenging Red Bull in the constructors’ championship. The last time they won the constructors’ was in 2008, while their last drivers’ title came in 2007 with Kimi Raikkonen.
Ferrari are third in the constructors’ on 180 points, three behind Mercedes and 67 behind championship leaders Red Bull. In the drivers’, Alonso is second while Massa is seventh.
Di Montezemolo said: “Felipe is fully aware he can count on our total confidence in him. I hope he will soon secure the results that will show his talent to the full, such as the great starts he pulled off at the last two Grands Prix. The future? We will talk about that further down the line as there is no hurry.”
The fact that Montezemolo has come out and backed his driver highlights the fact that Massa is under pressure to perform or risk losing his seat at the end of the season after eight years with the team.
Team principal Stefano Domenicali has also backed Massa once again: “I always said we have a lot of confidence in Felipe. I know this is a very critical, very tough moment because he is the first to be disappointed.
“The only thing to do is to stay always behind him and work hard with him because we need him to make sure we are fighting for the constructors’ championship.”
Massa said he is “calm” about his position in the team following the British Grand Prix but his inconsistency means his future is far from certain.
Marussia driver Jules Bianchi is a member of Ferrari’s driver academy and certainly in the frame for Massa’s seat. However historically, Ferrari do not tend to take a driver with just one year of experience. The other contenders are Force India’s Paul di Resta and Sauber’s Nico Hulkenberg.