Felipe Massa has not had many highs in his career since the day in 2008 when he thought he had won the world title by winning the Brazilian Grand Prix, only to find that Lewis Hamilton had managed to grab the fifth place he needed to become champion.
On the podium that day Massa was a picture of dignity; taking the disappointment on the chin and celebrating his race win in tears in front of his home fans.
At Monza this weekend we again saw Massa’s character. He looked sad all weekend, as if he knew that this could well be his last Monza as a Ferrari driver, but he still put in a strong performance, not least as a team player.
The team is making its decision on who will partner Alonso this week and Massa didn’t look all weekend like he believes it will be his name that comes out of the hat.
Nevertheless, he played the team game. On Saturday he played the lead out man for team mate Fernando Alonso, giving him a tow. When the fastest way to qualify is a single timed lap, as in Monza, this meant sacrificing his own lap. Ironically the pair got separated on the final run and Massa ended up qualifying ahead of Alonso in fourth place.
On Sunday he fought his way up into second place at the start, but then allowed Alonso to pass, under instruction from the pit wall, to challenge Vettel.
He missed out on third place because the strategy team allowed Webber to undercut him at the pit stop. Without that Massa would probably have ended up on the podium along with Vettel and Alonso.
As for what Ferrari will decide this week on his future, Massa said,
“I don’t know. Nothing is decided yet but it doesn’t depend on this race. It would be marvellous to stay at Ferrari, let’s see if there is a chance. I will speak with Montezemolo, I’m not sure when, but he knows me well and knows my value. As do other teams.”
There have been those in the paddock who have been saying that Raikkonen’s return to Ferrari is a “done deal”. German TV station RTL said it on Sunday after the race and BBC TV’s Eddie Jordan, who has had his fair share of ‘scoops’ over the last few years, has been saying it’s done for weeks.
Experienced Italian colleagues with many years ducking and diving around the corridors within the Scuderia were more cagey at the weekend, but seemed to think that in the end they would take Raikkonen, for his points scoring ability to help their Constructors’ Championship challenge and as a hedge against anything going wrong in the relationship with Alonso, leading to the Spaniard’s departure or sabbatical. The more Machiavellian third dimension to Raikkonen’s return is to show that they are standing up to Alonso, not giving him the run of the place.
However Raikkonen will not work in the simulator and will not service the team’s sponsors like Massa. Alonso referred to this on Sunday night, obliquely, when he said, “I have great respect for Felipe. He is a great professional; working in the simulator every day, working here in the paddock every day until late. Whatever the team’ decision I will be happy and if Felipe stays I will be maybe two times happier.”
Next year with significant technical changes, the simulator work is going to be important, but Ferrari also has Pedro de la Rosa, who is an expert in this area. But he’s not a race driver and from Raikkonen’s point of view, de la Rosa is very much Alonso’s man.
This brings us to the other side of the debate, which is – does Raikkonen actually want to drive for Ferrari again, alongside Alonso? I asked him on Thursday where he would like to drive and he said, “I change my mind every day!” The ongoing discussion has helped his negotiations with Lotus, with whom one senses he would prefer to stay. But he has to be convinced that they have the money and capability to produce a competitive car and only he knows whether they have given him satisfactory assurances. If he signs for Ferrari this week, it will be as much because of this as anything else.
Waiting patiently in the wings is Nico Hulkenberg, who did his chances no harm at all by qualifying a mediocre Sauber third on Saturday and then holding off the Mercedes of Nico Rosberg for a heroic fifth place in the race.
Ferrari has a close relationship with Sauber and knows something of Hulkenberg from his work with Ferrari engine technicians this year. Hulkenberg denied last year that he had any kind of promise from Ferrari when he took the Sauber drive or that they had an option on him, but he is considered by many F1 engineers to be the brightest prospect among the next generation of drivers and was able to demonstrate speed and consistency at the weekend.
Asked after the race about his hopes of a Ferrari drive he said, “It’s something I would not deny [his hopes of a Ferrari drive]. I’m definitely interested in it, it’s a no brainer. Will it happen? Time will tell.”
We don’t have long to wait.