Ferrari Should Bide Their Time With Massa

29 05 2012

The F1 paddock has been rife with rumours since the season opener in Australia that Felipe Massa’s position at Ferrari is attainable. The Brazilian has faced great scrutiny from critics after struggling to come to terms with a challenging F2012. Maybe less would have been made of his struggle had the immeasurably talented Fernando Alonso not been able to tame an uncontrollable beast in the opening four rounds until the upgrades post-Mugello.

Ever since he spun the car going into turn 6 in Melbourne in the first practice session of the year, after oddly putting his tyres on the grass, the Brazilian has seen his status questioned ubiquitously. The amplified pressure has occurred mainly because he has struggled to show pace since his horrific accident in 2009 at the Hungaroring when he was struck in the head by an unattached suspension spring from his compatriot Rubens Barrichello’s car.

Upon his return in 2010 his form was varied, but this is a man who can just as easily fail to score a point as secure a place on the podium. Five podiums and a sixth place finish in the Championship was not a bad return to racing for Massa, but it was his inability to build on this the following year when heads began to be scratched in Italy and patience began to wear thin.

Felipe Massa Is Fighting For His Ferrari Future

The highest position he could amass last season was just fifth (on six occasions) and the year would be shrouded in frustration with his frequent battles with good friend Lewis Hamilton, which saw them collided six times on track, and Massa even confronted the McLaren driver in the media zone after the Singapore GP mockingly saying “Good job, man” after Hamilton had clipped him in the race, resulting in a puncture for the Brazilian.

So far this season Massa has struggled to come to grips with a car which seems to be heavy on the tyres, with Pirelli making it a hard enough job by making the compounds softer and therefore more degradable. Before last weekend’s race in the glamorous Monaco, the Ferrari driver had only achieved one points finish with his ninth place in Bahrain. In comparison Alonso had scored points in every single race, including a victory in Malaysia and a second in his home race in Catalunya.

After Sergio Perez’s impressive start to the season, specifically his second place in Malaysia, the Sauber driver has been hotly tipped to be promoted to the Scuderia Ferrari team as early as this season. “Checo” is part of the Ferrari Driving Academy, an initiative which was created in order to nurture immense talent, and ironically it originated after Ferrari’s relationship with Massa at the start of his career. Perez is driving for the Swiss team, and after mediocre début season where he amassed 14 points, the Mexican has shown far more promise in 2012, which is why the Italian media have supported him.

Sergio Perez Is The Favourite To Replace Massa

There is no doubting the potential of Perez, and he brings financially attractive backing from Telmex; the telecommunications company, but the 22-year-old is still showing he needs time to settle into F1. The first two races of the season he qualified in 22nd and ninth respectively, and managed to convert those into an impressive eighth and a second. This blistering start helped the ‘tifosi’ jump on the bandwagon, especially when Massa in the opening couple of rounds qualified 16th and 12th, and was pointless with one retirement and 15th place. Since then however Perez has gone four races without scoring a point, and despite his strong pace and comfort in handling the suspect tyres, has perhaps shown that the speculation and expectation is getting to him.

When Massa first started out, just like Checho at Peter Sauber’s team, he was given three years to learn the ropes before replacing Barrichello as Michael Schumacher’s partner. The least that the Italian team can do is allow Perez to complete this season (which is already his best points tally in F1) and see if Massa can continue his improvement. In the south of France Massa set the fastest time in Q2 and became the first person to break into the 1:14’s. Despite this he actually showed slower pace in Q3, blaming traffic preventing him from a clear run, something which is notorious around the streets of Monte Carlo.

A six place finish might not sound great on paper, but sticking with the front five for the second half of the race showed primarily that the car looks enhanced, and secondly Massa might actually be regaining some confidence. Team principal Stefano Domenicali reflected positively on his driver’s performance “I think he did a great weekend. It was the weekend he deserved after a lot of big pressures. He was there in the first six cars which were very close. He was there, so that’s for me the best thing and I’m sure that this will be a turning of his season because he needs that.”

After being within a point of being World Champion in 2008, it is palpable that Massa needs to up his performance if he wants to remain at the Maranello based team next season. No victory since Brazil 2008 axiomatically needs to be corrected if he does not want to drive for an uncompetitive car again, and with the likes of Mark Webber being available from next season, there is a burden on Massa to return to his title challenging best.

This article has also been published at The F1 Times

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