Felipe Massa has announced that this season will be his last with Ferrari, with his confirmation serving to all but confirm that Kimi Räikkönen will return to the team next year.
Ferrari has been at the centre of the driver market ‘silly season’ in recent weeks, and it is expected to announce the identity of Massa’s replacement in the coming days.
“From 2014 I will no longer be driving for Ferrari,” he wrote on his Twitter feed.
“I would like to thank the team for all the victories and incredible moments experienced together.
“Thank you also to my wife and all of my family, to my fans and all my sponsors. From each one of you I have always received a great support!”
Massa – who is the second-longest serving Ferrari driver in its history – has struggled in recent years, particularly in the wake of his near-career-ending accident at the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, where he suffered critical head injuries after a damper spring hit him in the head during qualifying.
Prior to that accident, Massa was considered to be one of Ferrari’s great prospects at leading its post-Schumacher championship effort, and he came within a few seconds of winning the 2008 World Championship title at the thrilling finale in Brazil. Despite the disappointment, Felipe was sporting and gracious in defeat, and very much the moral champion that year.
Despite returning to the team completely recovered in 2010, he battled with inconsistent form and has failed to return to the winners’ circle, making his ongoing position at the team repeatedly in doubt.
Ferrari kept the faith in him with a one-year contract extension that took him into the current season, and despite a promising start to the season – where he outqualified teammate Fernando Alonso in each of the opening three races – he has only finished on the podium once.
The Italian squad has also failed to take up the challenge to the better technical package and driver combination from the championship-leading Red Bull Racing team, prompting its leadership to pursue a different driver pairing when the new engine and technical regulations are introduced next year.
That puts Räikkönen in the pound seats to secure the coveted seat with the team, while Massa will have to scramble for the few remaining competitive drives left on the 2014 grid.
“For next year, I want to find a team that can give me a competitive car to win many more races and challenge for the championship, which remains my greatest objective,” Massa added.
It’s honestly hard to see how likely those prospects are. The line-ups at Red Bull Racing and Mercedes are already locked in, and McLaren looks a certainty to keep its pairing Jenson Button and Sergio Perez as well.
One chance could be to challenge for Räikkönen’s seat at Lotus – should the Finn move to Ferrari – but it’s now believed that Sauber driver Nico Hulkenberg is in pole position for claim that drive.