In his latest feature article for RichardsF1.com, Ben Waterworth – host of Australia’s only Formula 1 radio show, The Qualifying Lap – looks at the trials and tribulations of Ferrari’s struggling number-two driver, Felipe Massa.
Is he good enough to remain with the Maranello team next year, or should he be cast off in favour of a younger star who can be groomed as Fernando Alonso’s understudy?
One thing’s for sure, Ben is going to promote plenty of debate here…
I made several bold predictions ahead of the 2012 Formula 1 season. Most involved my thoughts on various drivers and how they would go.
Amongst them were my thoughts that Pastor Maldonado was nothing but a pay driver and was useless. What did he do? Won the Spanish Grand Prix.
I also declared Nico Rosberg would never win a Grand Prix and was the ‘next Nick Heidfeld’. What does he do? Win the Chinese Grand Prix.
I also staunchly believed that Romain Grosjean would be soundly beaten by Kimi Räikkönen and lose his seat at the end of the year. Well while it isn’t the end of the year yet, he has been nothing short of extraordinary in the Lotus and at the half way point of the season sits second in The Qualifying Lap’s ‘Driver of the Year’ standings.
Probably my boldest prediction, however – and the one I staunchly believed in – was the fact that I believed Felipe Massa would not see out the rest of 2012 with Ferrari. And at the half way point, it certainly is looking like I could be wrong on this AGAIN (I did say he would be gone by Germany) but this doesn’t mean he will be there next year.
Is that too blunt? Too honest? Well let’s look at the facts and judge for yourself.
I will firstly point out that Ferrari red bleeds through my veins and I’m the biggest Ferrari fan you’ll meet in the northern suburbs of Hobart. I grew up idolising Schumacher and those red cars and the first tattoo I will get will be of the prancing horse smack bang on my heart. I am Tifosi through and through.
So this isn’t a tirade about Ferrari. And I will also say that I am not, nor will I ever be an Alonso fan. But I can admit that the guy is an amazing driver who has surprised me to no end that he has dragged the dog of a car the F2012 is to be leading the Drivers’ Championship at the half way point and have triple the amount of wins that the man I predicted would win the title, Sebastian Vettel, has after ten rounds.
That needed clearing up.
But Massa really has done nothing at all in his Ferrari career. Brought in to the race line-up in 2006 after a couple of mediocre seasons with Sauber, it was a clear case of having the right manager (that being Nicolas Todt, son of Ferrari team principal Jean Todt) and connections to the Prancing Horse. Given Schumacher was still the head honcho at the team from Marenello; it was a clear case of ‘the best number 2 for Schumacher at the time’.
Granted, Schumi’s number two drivers had never been slouches in their own right. Eddie Irvine was a flamboyant character that very nearly found himself a World Champion in 1999, while Rubens Barrichello would’ve been World Champion had he not faced up against Schumacher at his peak in the early 2000s.
But Massa had ‘Number Two’ written all over him and then some. His performance in 2006? Nothing spectacular. His debut win in Turkey came about as he waited for Schumacher to find his way into second place to help the team’s title charge back into first. It never came about as Alonso drove the socks off his Renault so Felipe gladly took that maiden victory.
But even Jarno Trulli won a Grand Prix, so nothing too special there.
Brazil 2006 was a similar story. Felipe sat waiting for the call that would never come, and gave the Brazilian fans something to celebrate for the first time since Senna. It was nice for them, but again, nothing special. Schumacher left, Felipe gloated about his ‘big opportunity’ in 2007. Enter the Iceman and the sibling rivalry at McLaren.
Massa got the better start of the two Ferrari drivers in 2007 in terms of consistency, but his error-ridden ways from his Sauber days reared their ugly head again and he was out of championship contention by Japan.
Then came 2008. The season that he would be World Champion for 30 seconds. His best season by far in terms of getting six wins and helping Ferrari to another Constructor’s title, but Lewis Hamilton – in only his second year of F1 – came close to losing out on the title again. Leaving Belgium with a ‘lucky win’, he finished sixth in Italy, thirteenth in Singapore and seventh in Japan (Singapore came about by dint of a farcical pit stop, and Japan came courtesy of a collision with Hamilton).
Yet he still could win the title, going to show how much Hamilton also let his guard slip as the pressure built on him. By no means is this unusual in Formula 1 as you could name countless World Champions who could be considered ‘lucky’ in their title winning ways. But in a mistake-ridden season by numerous drivers, Felipe Massa nearly reaped the benefits in the biggest way possible.
Then came 2009 and the nail in the already heavily sealed Felipe Massa coffin. Before his horrific accident during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix, he had only managed 22 points in a dog of a Ferrari. Kimi Räikkönen too was having a terrible time in his "I don’t give a crap" final year before his sabbatical, but still managed to win the Belgian Grand Prix against the odds. Massa would only visit the podium once in 2009, and it would count to one of only five podiums we would see from him since that season.
|Two career-defining moments: Massa miraculously returned t the grid in 2010 following his horrific qualifying accident at the Hungaroring, but there would be few fans who would deny that he has rarely shown glimpses of his pre-accident form. Being on the losing end of the infamous team orders call at the 2010 German Grand Prix has, many would argue, left him utterly demoralised.|
He never seemed quite the same on his return after his accident in 2010, and those infamous words spoken to him in Hockenheim in 2010 also seemed to have a very negative affect on him.
He has been fighting for his seat ever since. It’s been 31 races since we’ve seen his face on the podium and a team of Ferrari’s calibre with such a strong history really shouldn’t accept this, be it loyalty or not.
McLaren clearly wouldn’t stand for such a slouch in performance, as we saw with Heikki Kovalainen at the end of 2009, so Ferrari really need to take a look at where they are at pull someone else in who is capable of getting the results to help them win not only the drivers championship, but constructors championship as well. With 177 points in the Constructors’ Championship this year with only 12% of them scored by the Brazilian paints the picture of where Ferrari needs to improve.
So Felipe Massa a good Formula 1 driver? Well, every driver who enters the sport is good, but good enough to deserve being one of Ferrari’s most long-serving drivers? Well that still remains in question in my opinion. Ask yourself this: when was the last time you left a race and thought "Wow, Felipe Massa is a star driver?" All I can say is if he is in that car next year then it will be the biggest shock to me I have ever seen in the sport.
Well, actually a close second behind Ralf Schumacher’s bleach blonde hair, but that’s a whole other article.
Felipe Massa, the tribe has spoken.