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Ferrari drivers visit Maranello for talks
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Posted By: James Allen  |  28 Mar 2012   |  5:31 am GMT  |  259 comments

Both the Ferrari drivers went back to Maranello from Kuala Lumpur for meetings and discussions about the first two races and the way forward. Interestingly Malaysian GP winner Fernando Alonso had two meetings with Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, a long one on Monday and another yesterday.

Alonso participated in the ceremony whereby a flag is raised at the factory gate after a race victory, but while the Spanish driver’s stock is as high as it has even been within the team after winning a Grand Prix in arguably F1’s fifth or sixth fastest car, it has served only to emphasise Felipe Massa’s problems. The little Brazilian has not stood on an F1 podium since 2010 and the sight of his race engineer Rob Smedley shaking his head on the pit wall on Sunday was as seminal a moment as the immortal “Fernando is faster than you” line on the radio.

Interestingly, team principal Stefano Domenicali said that Massa had changed his plans in order to attend meetings at the factory to try to resolve his problems,

“Instead of heading home to see his family in Brazil, he will be in Maranello to work alongside the engineers to calmly analyse everything that happened in these past two races, trying to identify why he was not able to deliver what he is capable of,” said Domenicali.

“That’s the right spirit and we are here, ready to help him.”

Ferrari has been very patient and loyal with Massa, giving him a new chassis for Malaysia and he was on average around 4/10ths off Alonso prior to the race. This is closer than he was in Australia, but still far from what is expected. Tellingly, it’s also the amount that the other teams’ strategists factor in as the difference between the two Ferrari drivers when planning race strategies.

At the meetings in Maranello he is likely to have been told that their patience is not endless.

The Massa situation is not Ferrari’s primary concern at the moment. Sorting out the problems with the F2012 is top of the list. Engineers from rival teams say that it will be hard to get the car to the same level as the pace setting McLaren as the decision to go with pullrod front suspension has been shown not to be effective and the team are committed to it now. Time will tell.

But the performance on Sunday of Sergio Perez, the man most likely to replace Massa at some point, has further added to the glare of doubt about the Brazilian, who is driving at the moment like a man with little or no confidence.

Many outsiders are calling for Perez to be brought in for the next race in China, including, mischievously, the McLaren boss Martin Whitmarsh. It is very tempting for onlookers to see this as the logical move. But this is unlikely to happen. The earliest Ferrari might consider giving Perez a run would be the Mugello test on May 1st, after Bahrain.

But even then the situation is fraught with problems. Putting Perez in the car mid season could actually prove counter-effective, for the team and for Perez’ career, as the F2012 is a difficult car to drive and how would it look if he under-performed in it? It would leave the team with nowhere to go next and could wreck his confidence.

“We know we have an unstable car,” said Domenicali, “One that in certain moments gives us a lot and at other times, a lot less.” Technical director Pat Fry agreed, “The F2012 seems to behave in very different ways depending on the conditions,” he said. “In this race there were moments when it was competitive, others where it struggled. Now we need to find the missing tenths.”

This is not a car a young driver, whose stock is high after a good result, should want to step into hastily.

Moving teams mid-season with little or no testing time is always very high risk, especially for a driver with only one season of F1 experience. Add to that the performance of Alonso in the other car and the entry level would be very high indeed for Perez.

Better to wait until the end of the season and then start afresh with a new car and plenty of testing. One of the likely outcomes of the new Concorde Agreement, called for by Montezemolo, is the return of a bit more testing in 2013.

Of course if Massa’s decline continues the team may be forced to act and in that scenario it will be fascinating to see what they decide to do.

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1

Ferrari have created a car that has some serious fundamental flaws which stems from the front pull-rod suspension. Under normal circumstances, Ferrari’s car is the ninth fastest in race trim. In qualifying, it is around 1.5 seconds off the pace, give or take a tenth of a second.

Of the other cars, the McLaren is the fastest car, and is a very consistent car, not too dissimilar to the Brawn car(at least in the first 7 races) in 2009. The only difference is that McLaren don’t have a big innovation like the double diffuser Brawn had and that McLaren have more development power than what Brawn had that year.

Mercedes has a good car, especially in low downforce configuration. Schumacher has been very good so far, but has been quite unlucky with the gearbox failure in Australia, and with the early spin and chaos in Malaysia. In both races, he would have finished comfortably in the points. Rosberg has been quite disappointing so far this year, and is showing why he is NOT in the top tier of drivers in F1.

Lotus also have a good car, especially in low and high downforce configurations, which suggests the car must be good in terms of braking and traction.

Red Bull has an interesting car. It could be still good on a real aero circuit, but many of the things that helped the aero to make the car work on all circuits is gone. I am not sure if the car can win under normal circumstances.

Under normal conditions, I say McLaren, Mercedes and Lotus can all win races. Red Bull possibly could win races, but not at this moment. However, I think McLaren have the most complete car out of the whole field, and will always be at the front of the field.

2

Your forgetting who is keeping everything in check at Redbull! I fear we are going to be seeing that Redbull’s right back on the pace or there about’s come China 3 weeks is a long time in F1!

3

Is Massa really doing as bad a job as it seems, Im not convinced that he is.

At Sepang he was only 3 tenths off Alonso in Q2. His pace in the early part of the race was also strong, Again within 2-3 tenths of Alonso & running 8th. He was also within that time gap to Alonso late in the race.

The thing that dropped Massa back at Sepang & saw him finish so far down the order was that he burned up his 1st set of inter’s faster than others (As did Button) & Ferrari then kept him out for strategy reasons so he spent 10+ laps falling backwards on badly worn tyres.

Then as Ted Kravitz said on Sky he had a very slow stop when they did pit him.

After this stop on his 2nd set of inter’s & after they switched to slicks his pace was actually quite strong.

Based on looking at lap charts & the timing data, Massa’s pace in the race at Sepang was actually a lot stronger (Once off the worn tyres) than his finishing spot suggest’s.

Based on that I don’t think its fair to be calling for him to be dropped just yet, Certainly not based on supposed poor pace alone.

2 other things to consider is that the car is clearly not that strong & that his team mate is Fernando Alonso who is capable of pushing a bad car beyond its limits (Something all the greats can do), This alone could be making Massa look like he’s doing worse than he actually is.

4

Would not say he is doing a bad job but not what would be expected especially in relation to his previous form pre incident 09. so on that basis its a bit like a team time warping back into a 3-4yr old car just cant realistically be done.

Im afraid Massa’s time is now up and for all the criticism Ferrari get about team tactics etc etc over the years what other team would have given Massa as long to re find his form??? defo none so in that respect hats off to Ferrari but i feel they gave him 1 season too long! all such a shame i thought he was genuinely up at the top of the game prior to the incident.

5

“Would not say he is doing a bad job but not what would be expected especially in relation to his previous form pre incident 09”

Fair point, However how much of his seeming to not be doing as well as pre-accident down to the fact he’s now team mates with Alonso who’s simply making Massa look worse than he is?

If Kimi was still alongside Massa perhaps the 2 would still be as evenly matched as there were in 2007-2009 which would make Felipe look like he was doing just as well as he was Pre-Accident.

Also look back at early 2010, While Fernando was still settling himself into Ferrari, Massa was actually much closer to him, Actually beating him a couple times early on that year.

It wasn’t untill Fernando bedded himself into the team & got the team around him in Mid/Late-2010 that Massa really started to look like his pace dropped off.

If Massa’s problems were down to his 2009 accident, He’d have been off the pace from the day he returned in 2010, However he came back looking just as strong as he was Pre-Accident.

6

clear to see in my eyes looking at the complete picture ie other teams/drivers practice sessions qualifying sessions and race day ever since his return.

Sorry but completely unarguable by any means if you compare his overall kike for like form pre and post incident.

study it properly clear to see, like i said hats off to Ferrari (and im not a particular ferrari fan) Massa has certainly been one of my recent trs favourites to be honest though.

7

The Slim family will support a Checo move to Ferrari because it would be the proudest moment in Mexican Motorsport thus far to have a Mexican in the red car. He can still advertise Telmex on his overalls and as a Ferrari driver will get even more TV exposure. Sauber also has another Mexican driver even younger waiting in the wings so Slims companies get double branding in a team and a driver in a top team.

The problem is timing. It is not a good time because the current Ferrari is such a dog. Better to wait until 2013 or if Ferrari somehow is able to develop the car to close to decent by the European races.

As for Massa I think Ferrari has given him more than enough chances and.nobody will fault them for dropping him mid-season.

8

Simple Answer ..Come back Rubens all is forgiven… A safe pair of hands and available

9

If Ferrari were to drop Massa during this season, whom would they chose to replace him? There are not too many drivers on the market at the moment who would be worth a Ferrari seat. Of course for 2013 it looks very different, with Hamilton’s and Schumacher’s contracts expiring this year. Both Champions are free agents in 2013. I’m sure they will monitor Ferrari’s situation closely. That said, why would Hamilton leave? McLaren seems to have the faster car at least at the moment so a move to a team with a slower car doen’t make much sense, unless Hamilton looks for a new challenge, like Schumacher in 1996 for example. As for Schumacher, it looks as if Mercedes might quit sooner rather than later, they are unhappy with the fact that Ferrari, McLaren and Red Bull agreed separate commercial deals instead of commiting to the team’s associatian so Schumacher and Rosberg could become free agents rather soon.

10

I really don’t think Perez will replace Massa this year, and I could say that I’m 99.9% sure of this. Ferrari want a driver with experience, yes Perez has shown promise and he is part of the Ferrari Driver’s Academy – the only FDA member currently in F1 (apart from Bianchi who’s a test driver), that could only mean he is being trained to become a replacement for someone at Ferrari.

I still believe Ferrari’s original plan was to have Kubica alongside Alonso but we all know what happened. There were rumors of Button and Rosberg, two candidates that would fit the bill but they went their own ways signing contract extensions, that leaves Perez, yet still too inexperienced in the eyes of Ferrari.

I don’t think Ferrari want Sutil, he’s as useless as Massa and now has legal problems too. Alguersari is inexperienced as well and if RB got rid of him it’s because he wasn’t up to standard, Ferrari surely wouldn’t take a recycled driver. Fisichella no way, too long out of F1 already, and Barrichello well he’s an option, he would do anything to get back into an F1 seat, nonetheless with a front-running team; but, would he perform better than Massa in a car that’s as difficult to drive as the F2012, would Perez or anybody else? Massa has tested and contested two GP’s on this car already, replacing him now would be similar to 2009 with the other Ferrari constantly in last place.

Ferrari know the F2012 is bad right now and that is the main focus, Massa comes later.

11

Maybe Heidfeld replacing Massa would work? Always a points machine, fast enough to keep Alonso on his toes, let down by Lotus last year and made the scapegoat so will be fired up to make amends.

12

Even if Alonso somehow managed to win every race in 2012 he can’t win the Constructors Championship for Ferrari on his own. We just want to see a #2 driver who can consistently finish ‘in the points’ every race – to add points so Ferrari can have a fighting chance of winning the Constructors Championship or even runner-up.

Watching Massa slugging it out with the HRT’s & Marussia is disgraceful – bring back Barricello an excellent #2 Ferrari driver 10 years ago- he’s free – ready to race!

13

Historically, Ferrari rarely draft in rookie drivers, let alone during midseason. Gilles Villeneuve aside, even Alesi had a few seasons at Tyrrell before coming across.

Ideally they want Massa to perform like he did in 2nd half of 2010 – be Fernando’s wingman and collect constructors points.

I would be shocked if Checo was in a Ferrari this year (other than for academy testing). I think Checo-Ferrari has always been a long term project. The shorter term project is to get Slim/Fernandez & co. to take a bigger stake in Sauber and mould the team around Checo to become a true Latin American F1 team. Williams with MAL & SEN could beat Sauber in this branding race. In fact commercially, its more likely that Checo and another Latin driver (maybe even Massa) are paired up at Sauber in the future.

My money is on Webber being on top of Ferrari’s #2 driver list. Its a win-win situation all round.

There will definitely be some musical chairs for 2013.

BTW, how come Ferrari don’t have an official reserve driver? Is still Fisichella, Gene? Or are they only GT racers now?

14

Interesting thoughts Koby on the move to a Latin American team for Sauber, although I’m not sure where Kobayashi fits in all of that…other than Peter Sauber keeping him in favour of Massa as you suggest.

However, I don’t see a Webber move to Ferrari as being win-win. It might be a win for Ferrari, but unless Webber gets dumped by Red Bull (no reason based on recent results) then why move to a less competitive car?

15

Well Webber is wearing a red Mugello top at the unveiling of his Tussaud stunt double.. You read it here first!!!

16

Geez so he his! never noticed at the time of the article getting posted, very interesting he will be getting a few kidney punches back at redbull for that one.

If he was not currently outperforming performing Vettel and with Vettel not leading the standings/dominating they would prob slow his car down in some way or form!

17

James,

I read on the official Ferrai F1 site the following;

After some routine medical and physical checks at the Physiology Centre in Forli, Fernando was back in Maranello this afternoon, to go over the current situation with Domenicali, Technical Director Pat Fry and his race engineer, Andrea Stella.

Any idea what the routine medical/physical checks would have been about? its the first time I have heard this one.

Thanks

Dave

18

check alonso twitter

19

But Alonso does not have a twitter account so whatever twitter account for Alonso you follow it is not his Official one! Ferrari do not allow their drivers to twitter 🙂

20

That has changed now. They both do

21

Here’s a question, what if Ferrari decide to begrudgingly persist with Massa for the rest of the season, but in the process of developing the car, he suddenly finds how to use the Pirelli tyres and pumps out 2-3 victoriesin the tail half of the season. That would give them a significant driver conundrum…

22

Ferrari have been incredibly patient with Massa, and I hope he improves enough to retain his Ferrari seat. There is time for the car to improve and finish higher in the standings, but Felipe needs to step it up.

23

Hi James

Just wondering, if Perez joins Ferrari would Rob Smedley be his race engineer or is his position under threat as a consequence as well?

24

Person I feel for the most is Rob Smedley. That man must be at the breaking point of giving up. Everyone bangs on about the “accident” but Massa was on the slide long before then.

Going by radio broadcasts Smedley seemingly has to coach Massa around every corner of every lap. From the comfort of my arm chair Massa does not appear to be a particularly clever driver.

I hear Domenicali in other articles is making a point about Massa almost winning the WDC in 2008. Well it’s 2012 now and far from looking to improve this year it appears the threat of losing his seat has demotivated him further.

Schumi won 7 WDC titles in the past. Can’t see any of those as a reason why he should be a Ferrari driver now.

25

“Everyone bangs on about the “accident” but Massa was on the slide long before then.”

How do you come to that conclusion?

Just before the Hungary accident Massa had been outpacing Kimi Raikkonen since the start of the season & had come off a series of strong points finishes including a podium.

At the time of his accident, Massa had 22 points, Kimi only 12.

26

22pts after 9 races. Average of 2.4 pts per race. In 2009 money that’s an average position of 7th. This was also a year where Massa said the Mclaren was the slowest he’d ever seen it.

The Ferrari was bad in 2009 granted but beating Kimi in the year Kimi wasn’t motivated and ultimately retired isn’t something to shout about.

2006 – Schumacher finished ahead of Massa 11-3

2007 – Kimi finished ahead of Massa 9-4

2008 – Massa finished ahead of Kimi 8-3 *BUT* in qualifying the average gap was just 0.001 seconds

2009 – Kimi beats Massa 6-4 in quali but Massa 3-2 in races

You’re correct Massa did get a podium in 2009. 3 races after Kimi got one. Kimi went on to get another 3 or 4 podiums in a poorly performing Ferrari. Could Massa of got more? Who knows.

The way I see it Massa was crushed my Schumacher. Kimi joins and beats Massa. Massa just starts getting the upper hand on Kimi at a time Kimi is disillusioned with F1 and lacking in motivation when he has the crash.

He comes back to find Alonso whipping him repeatedly. Year after year of being constantly beaten by your, admittedly F1 Champion, team mates must be difficult to take.

You could possibly argue he was just starting to turn things around at the time of his accident but he was certainly not good enough before.

He’s been at Ferrari for 6 years. If his finest moment is taking 2 years to get the upper hand on a team mate disillusioned with the sport then I don’t see he has much to shout about.

Massa is a decent enough driver. Not the sharpest tool in the box by a long shot but certainly good enough to be in F1.

I just don’t think he’s good enough to be in a team with expectations like Ferrari. A midfield team would suit assuming he didn’t crash into everyone else.

27

The previos comente of mine was intended to answering to Audi Quattro’s reply to post #51. Sorry about the mismatch.

28

Howevar, Jaime has praised Alonso’s driving in Sepang in Spanish media.

29

I hear rumours that Ferrari may revise (maybe heavily) last years car and introduce it for the European season. Anyone else heard such rumours?

30

Why would they do that?

31

maybe bcoz tat would be a good base to build upon…like what Mclaren did …a extension or evolution of their last year’s car…nd last year;s ferrari was way better than F2012…they afterall won the only race (Silverstone) without the EBD…

32
Tornillo Amarillo

IMO Decisions have to be made and Ferrari has the upper hand regarding Sauber or Perez, the laters simply cannot say no!

Now it is a good opportunity for Ferrari to get Perez.

There is any problem there that cannot be fixed with money, it’s a business for everybody. Even Massa can retire with some good money.

Esteban Gutierrez (reserve driver, also mexican) could drive for Sauber, given that Kobayashi is already an experienced driver in the grid.

And Sauber has already got a bunch of points this year for being happy enough.

Move on.

33

Let’s presume Massa’s problem continue to the point that Ferrari has no choice. James, do you think there is a slight chance that Robens or Adrian Sutil could fill the gap? Jarno Trulli is also out of job and he is an italian.

34

Perez will be in a Ferrari for the US Grand Prix in Texas. Makes so much commercial sense if Ferrari has a dismal year as predicted.

35

Who is Ferrari’s reserve driver these days? Surely they sorted that after Badoer was such a let down. Is it Fisi? I think calling up the reserve and making Massa reserve is the best way to act for Ferrari. And yet one can’t help but think that Massa and all the bad press he’s getting take the focus off the dismal state of the car. Some media savvy Ferrari guru has likely figured that out. Once the car comes good, expect Massa to be dropped. It’ll be like a package of changes. B-spec car, new drivers, too.

36

James, thanks for the excellent article once again. There’s been some suggestions from the Media, including Gary Anderson I believe, that Ferrari is abandoning the Pull Rod front suspension and going back to the more conventional Push Rod. Is there any truth to that? Can your sources provide any info?

37

I’ve heard rumours both ways on this. I think it’s unlikely, but we will see

38

here’s a weird idea i got considering Felipe Massa’s replacement :

1/ferrari is about prestige

2/ferrari wants a solid number2 to bring in the constructor championship while not “annoying” the number1

3/brazilian driver have a proven track record in that role

wouldn’t associating Ferrari’s name and Senna’s name be a match made in heaven if bruno shows progress at williams ?

39

If you check Massa’s performance in 2010 and 2011 he was stronger at the first 3 races of the season. I think that it is possible that both seasons he believed in him at the beginning, but Fernando being faster than him gave him a blow twice and then he could not repeat his better performances at the beginning of the third year with Alonso in the same car. I think he has a few extra adaptation problems at the moment that he can overcome, but I believe he needs a miracle to believe in him 100% again because someone cannot really control his subconscious or unconscious. If Massa could not do it within 2 years then chances are it will not happen these days also.

But i see no point for Perez to replace Massa. He has less to win than to loose and it looks purely a bad risk to take. Sauber has a good pace anyway and he can make a lot of things there, rather than rushing into the unknown just because Ferrari has history or the money.

Noone can say that Ferrari will finish higher than Sauber in the standings this year moreover that Prez’s results solely would be better if he went to Ferrari now. So Sergio should stay at Sauber to prove himself more, so that teams would take him more seriously after. Because if he stays at Sauber it is certain he can prove himself again and again to the team bosses and for them consistency means a lot. But if he goes now to Ferrari and he does not prove that consistent and quick for whatever reason what he did so far will be forgotten. It is just a matter of following the route that enables you to build a better cv.

Noone seems the ideal candidate to replace Massa, therefore whoever he is will be a surprise and therefore I think that we cannot exclude anyone. Whoever Ferrari chooses will be a risk, but maintaining Massa is already risky and the risk increases as he does not better his performances at the next races. So one wonders who will be the lucky.

40

James,

All of this speculation about Masa is written from the perspective of Massa as a good driver who has gone bad, which I don’t believe is supported by the facts. He, like Vettle, has won from the front. But the number of competitive over taking maneuvers he has completed without incident can be counted with very few fingers. He has never come from midfield to the front on his own talent rather than a pass in the pits or a DNF or some other driver’s error gifting him a place or two. He is not a Button who when things go bad says “I have to do all I can with this situation and make points”. Rather he recently seems to get desperate to hold off people trying to pass him rather than pass those in front. His attitude and thinking are backwards. Massa is a good test driver; he has never been a good race driver.

To me this is the season Vettle proves himself as a world class driver, from lower in the pack, with a less than the best car, can he do what Alonso did this past weekend, get a win.

I am not an Alonso fan, but he proved his worth categorically this past weekend by driving for a win when the odds said it was not there! Alonso can do it and has in the past for years, Button can do it, the best drivers can, but not Massa and that has been his weakness long before he was hit in the head with a spring.

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