Ferrari issue a veiled warning to Massa

Posted: March 21, 2012 in Drivers, Formula 1, Teams
Tags: , , , ,

Ferrari announced that Felipe Massa will be driving chassis number 294 in Sepang, as opposed to 293 that he used in Melbourne. This, by itself, is not major news. Teams do tend to go through a couple of chassis throughout the year. What’s interesting however is the wording that Ferrari used to justify this decision. They said: “This choice was taken to clear up any doubts about the unusual performance of his car during the weekend at Albert Park”.

This statement striked me, because there have been no suggestions whatsoever anywhere in the press (printed or online) that Massa’s Australian predicament was down to a defect chassis, there was therefore no need for Ferrari to go public with that. Ferrari’s decision to use the words “clear up any doubts” implies that, to them, it’s not an issue and that this has been an internal confrontation, apparently between Massa’s side and Ferrari management. Ferrari, though, go a step further and state that: “Felipe knows he can count on the team to do everything, both from the technical and the operational point of view, to put him in a better state to show off his talents – even at the cost of extra work in these few days that separate the Australian race from the one in Malaysia”.

To me, this reads like a disclaimer a lawyer would have written, and definitely not a simple team announcement. I read it like a direct message to Massa: we give you everything, we even respond to unreasonable demands at the cost of extra work, so it’s up to you to deliver. I am not used to Ferrari conducting (thinly veiled) dialogue with their drivers in public, so I am very concerned that the above statement is a prelude to the oncoming Massa’s replacement. It appears Ferrari have had enough, and are willing to go public just to make sure everybody understands it’s not the car’s fault, but Massa’s. If the situation inside the team was harmonious, then I would have expected a very simple and to-the-point statement, such as “Felipe Massa will be driving chassis No294 in Sepang”, and nothing more. The way the statement is written can be useful when terminating a contract, because it puts on records that: (a) the team have gone over and beyond their normal procedures to assist Massa, (b) they have done so at an extra cost in terms of man hours and shipping and (c) Felipe is aware of that.

All this additional seasoning makes me suspicious.

  1. Avais says:

    Abu any reason why Massa has not been able to perform well after his accident ? i mean how can he be so bad consistently for more than a year now. after 2008 it has been downhill for him. Any views ?

    • abu says:

      It’s a combination of things… Where to start… Yes, the accident played its role, I presume, mainly in that Massa lost precious time in the cockpit, and when he returned he had to get to grips with F1 again with Fernando Alonso as his team-mate. Furthermore, Alonso has completely destroyed Felipe in the psychological department. He’s established himself as the darling of the team, and that’s hard to accept for someone who’s been associated with Ferrari since 2002. Finally, Felipe is not the greatest driver in adapting his driving style to different car / tyre characteristics. His style is fixed, and doesn’t change. It either works or it doesn’t. That’s why he’s great in some races and abysmal in others. That’s why he’s great one season and mediocre the next. He rarely ever uses the full width of the track, especially while positioning the car for the corner entry, uses a lot of steering lock, and relies heavily on the car’s rear grip and ability to ride the kerbs to make that work. In situations where you need to be ginger with throttle application and smooth in your lines, he’s below par. Ferrari, for instance, improved their car a lot in 2011, and we saw Massa having some decent performances towards the end of last year. But, as I said, it comes and goes, and it either works for him, or it doesn’t.

  2. JS says:

    First of all, I have been a silent reader for a couple of weeks and I really enjoyed your analyses. They are much more sophisticated than most professional press commentaries. Even most former Formula 1 drivers fail to give evidence for their opinions. A fact that slightly disappoints me with most Formula 1 coverage.

    Regarding that Ferrari press statement, I agree with you. I wonder how long Ferrari will allow Massa to drive on that poor level before they replace him. But I don’t think that his driving got worse since last season. Alonso was just bloody quick in the last race, achieving a position which the car did clearly not deserve. From my point of view, it would be a mistake to keep Massa. Simply because his failures are discussed publicly in the press, especially in Italy, and that puts additional pressure on the team. Massa as a person is certainly likeable but from his performance I can’t see why he should still be in Formula 1 especially in such an ambitious team like Ferrari. Ferrari can be lucky that Alonso does not need a teammate to push him to his limits, he is evidently able to do this by himself. I have never been a big fan of Fernando Alonso but his perfomance in Silverstone last year and that last race in Australia impressed me.
    For a shot in the dark, who do you think would replace Massa, if Ferrari is of the opinion to do so? My guess is Adrian Sutil. Since his Spyker years, he should know how to perform well in bad car. I can’t see any other driver of his quality on the market. Additionally, I don’t think that he would challenge Alonso’s position as the teamleader, he would be grateful to have a seat in a Formula 1 car again… Anyway, I am not sure, if I would like to see him back in Formula 1 after that incident in China last year for which he has been sentenced by a German court…

    • abu says:

      First of all, thanks for visiting and for taking the time to post here. Welcome, officially, silent reader… 😉

      To the point: I agree 100% with your assessment that “it would be a mistake to keep Massa. Simply because his failures are discussed publicly in the press, especially in Italy, and that puts additional pressure on the team”. If only for that, Felipe should give up his place because it is to both parties’ detriment to remain together. With regards to potential replacements: Ferrari would be making a huge mistake by hiring Sergio Perez. I think he’s one of the most exciting talents out there, but he has a lot to learn, and it would be a folly to throw him in the middle of the season, next to Fernando Alonso, driving an ill-handling beast. Perez should have the benefit of at least one decent pre-season testing with the team. Other options, like you said, include Adrian Sutil. I think he’s an ideal candidate because he’s fast, and he will not unsettle Alonso. It’s unclear however if Sutil is a wanted figure in the F1 paddock. Hamilton’s decision to refuse to testify in his trial speaks volumes. F1, lest we forget, is a very tight-knit circle, and I’m afraid Adrain has found himself firmly on the outside. Alternatives? Jaime Alguersuari, Jules Bianchi, Nick Heidfeld and Jarno Trulli. In my opinion, only Alguersuari would be, potentially, able to deliver better results than Massa, on the long term. But I have a feeling that Massa will not make it to race in the European leg, if he continues like that…

      • JS says:

        I agree with you, it is not very likely that Sutil would get Massa’s seat because he finds himself “firmly on the outside.” Don’t think that Heidfeld will make it after his “special” Renault/Lotus experience last year. From my point of view, Trulli wouldn’t be a good replacement for Massa, he got outperformed by Heikki in nearly the same manor like Massa by Alonso. Bianchi lacks experience in Formula 1, he has to learn a lot more to handle a like the 2012 Ferrari and I am not quite sure, if Alguersari has the skills to do so. The Torro Rosso, even in the beginning of the last season wasn’t such a bad car and from my opinion Jaime underperformed in the first races of the season. Maybe Ferrari should take Glock from Marussia, at least he has enough experience with pushing bad cars to their limit and beyond. 😉

  3. avens says:

    I had to write this down somewhere. This is easily the best F1 blog I’ve ever seen, to the point I come here everyday hoping there are new articles.

    Here’s a small suggestion though. I think knowing the layout of each circuit is a major factor to enjoy and get hooked with watching racing, so the blog could use some track analysis, including videos (or at least key words to search them in youtube), historical moments, maybe going around them in F12011, rfactor or iracing, etc.. Even official race coverage should take that into account, at least for practice sessions.
    Last year mclaren uploaded similar videos to their youtube channel. Don’t know why they didn’t do it this year though.

    • abu says:

      Thanks mate… I am sure this is not the best F1 blog – I am truly humbled by your comments… 🙂

      Regarding pre-race track analysis, videos, historical moments, etc – I am afraid FOM are copyright owners of all video material. Being just your average F1 fan (albeit a bit more annoying and persistant than most), I can’t post any such stuff here. I am not even sure I am allowed to provide links to them, but I am willing to take my chances here and there… At this time I am only doing this blog as a hobby, in my free time, so I don’t know if I will have enough time to do pre-race analysis as well. It’s a great idea though, and I will have to consider it for the future…

      I am chuffed to bits that you like this blog so much, and I hope you keep on visiting 🙂

  4. Talisman says:

    Hey Abu

    Regarding Massa I agree with everything you say except one thing. IIRC he was actually quite handy at the start of the 2010 season and was pretty close to Alonso and ahead of him occasionally. This would suggest that the accident did not have a physiological effect on Massa. Since the mid-2010 season he has been awful and although he is one of my favourite drivers because of his dignity and stoicism frankly I’m also embarrassed for him too.

    I don’t think Sutil would be taken on, having a criminal conviction for stabbing someone in the neck isn’t sponsor friendly and he would have difficulties getting into some countries on the calendar.

    The other options are not so good either. Most of them are inexperienced like Perez. 2013 is a different story of course with many top drivers available for then so Ferrari may take the pain with Massa for one final season or find a use and dispose driver like they did with Fisi before finding a permanent replacement for 2013 onwards.

    I have several suggestions, one is Liuzzi who may savour the prospect of a Ferrari race drive slightly more than a test drive role at HRT (tough call I know, there’s not much in it is there?). In a similar vein, drivers like Nick Heidfeld are available too and if all else fails, how about JV ;)?

    Alternatively a single season swap with Sauber for Kamui Kobayashi is another possibility.

    • abu says:

      Liuzzi is a very interesting idea, actually. He’s a decent driver, who will need minimum amount of time to adjust. I think it’s a safer bet than Alguersuari who has way too much to prove. Frankly, I wouldn’t like to see Kobayashi in a Ferrari. He’s a very decent person, likeable and forthcoming. I am not sure how he would fit inside the Ferrari environment, which is completely geared towards Alonso. Kamui will have to deal with so much pressure and rubbish coming from the italian press…

      …looking forward to Sepang? I can’t wait dude……

  5. jeanrien says:

    This conversation is probably why they kept Massa so long, who else to take his seat to bring beter results.
    Liuzzi would be to me the best choice so far, not only for his capability as a driver but it would bring a lot of support to have an italian driver back on the grid and best of all in a ferrari. Alonso would still be by far the lead driver but at least they should take back some support. And I think the fan you have and the media influence on a team is quite consequent and that could bring some freshness into ferrari to putt the team back on track.

    I also believe that if they haven’t bring fresh blood into ferrari, it’s because they waited the return of Kubica. But I’m not sure he has made the best move with his agent, he seems to deteriorate his contact with F1 lately (not sure it would stop ferrari hiring him next season if he is fit … )

    In the mean time, let’s see how all this unveil as the season continue ^^

  6. … and Italian press can be a pain in the butt to deal with – be it Autosprint, Gazzetta or whatever you wish.
    As for Massa … The fact is he doesn’t deliver. For whatever reason. So, someone has to fix that reason. That would be either Ferrari or Massa. Since the former have already done “something” (F2012), it’s time for Massa to adapt, I guess.

    Replacing Massa? ALG may do better – he’s Spanish, obviously OK with being second driver, for now – who knows when Alonso retires?

    Next choice: Jules B. Young hope – only if Ferrari determine that they would love to invest in him. He’ll gain incredibly valuable experience with ill-handling car.

    Return of Giancarlo Fisichella? Why not? He’s in the team anyway. Whether he’s fit enough, currently, for the job, I’m not sure.

    Wait for Kubica to return (looks like a Selenium expression from my daily job, LOL 🙂 )?
    I doubt that Ferrari will risk with that, not knowing his condition at any time.

    Perez and Kobayashi? Rather no, they are better at Sauber.

    My advise for Ferrari: sign Mark Webber. Next year.

  7. Avais says:

    Abu i cant thank you enough for finding the time and patience to answer questions we ask. Please keep it up. Believe it or not i am anxiously waiting for any article you post on your blog.

    KEEP IT UP 🙂

  8. rayburn says:

    Regarding a replacement, how about Barrichello? For me he would be the best driver to help Ferrari sort the car, he has very recent F1 experience, would offer no threat to Alonso, would be grateful to get another season in F1 and having been at Ferrari previously, is well aware of how the team politics work.

    I know he is under contract elsewhere, but if Ferrari wanted him, I am sure that could be sorted. They desperately need additional feedback from another experienced driver to try and sort that car.

    • abu says:

      Is there a clause in his indy contract that he can leave for F1 should the opportunity arise…? He would be ideal, yes, I agree. Not in terms of raw pace, but definitely in terms of developing the car and helping the team understand it more, like you suggest…

  9. rayburn says:

    I have no idea what it says in his contract, however, a little money passed to the right quarters usually has the intended result!

  10. Talisman says:

    I can’t see Alguersuari at Ferrari, he’s a Red Bull castoff and they made it very clear that they don’t rate him in no uncertain terms. Ferrari taking a rival’s discarded rubbish? I don’t see it.

    I believe Ferrari planned to replace Massa with Kubica 2012 but obviously this fell apart after his accident. I do not believe Kubica will ever be back in F1 regardless of what his vociferous fans believe, and he also has to cope with an extraordinarily inept manager too.

    Trulli is good for one season, he might be good as a stopgap and he’s available too.

  11. Kiel says:

    WOW. That must hurt alot to felipe baby. It’s almost as if the team are saying, you were so slow, it has to be the car.

    Massa simply cannot fail this weekend. But I fear he will

    The only downside is, who is going to replace him that would be of vast improvement? Theres no point uprooting one of the sauber guys. Bianchi is well, Bianchi and I wouldn’t bring Sutil back into F1 so early

  12. reichsmarshal24 says:

    Hi Abu,

    Great article as always. Do you think the negative effects of putting in a mid-season driver replacement who needs time to adjust to a new team is less than keeping an extremely underperforming driver? IMHO, Massa should go. He has been given enough chances (2 years) TO BE A PRODUCTIVE NUMBER 2. Ferrari aren’t even expecting him to challenge for titles, just take away as many points from Alonso’s rivals. Felipe is a nice guy but, sadly, he cannot keep on justifying his stay with what he accomplished, or almost accomplished, in 2008.

    • abu says:

      That’s hard to tell. Replacing a driver, no matter how bad he is performing at the moment, is risky. You must remember how Giancarlo Fisichella and Luca Badoer performed for Ferrari when they replaced Massa after his accident. To be perfectly honest, Massa is the least of Ferrari’s problems. First they need to sort their car out, and then take a decision on drivers. They can tolerate Massa for another season, get their car sorted out, and get a good driver for next year, which is the important one. That’s my opinion.

  13. benny_rex says:

    Hi Abu… as many others have stated, your blogs are some of the best going on the f1 circus we all love so much 🙂 Also i agree, Massa is past his best and i think back to Panis when he admitted towards the end of just after his career that his big accicent made it impossible for him to commit 100% after and with Felipe also having a young family i always thought it was going to be hard if not impossible for him to find his best. Adding to that the heartbreak of losing the title as he did to Lewis….
    To speculate on a replacement for Felipe, what about Timo Glock? He certainly deserves a better car and is a current driver who understands the cars out there atm. Is there no way he could be “bought out” by Ferrari and say Bianci land the Marussia seat. Sort of like when Ricciardo went to HRT.

    • abu says:

      Yes, I agree. Like Talisman suggested, Glock is one of the best options for Ferrari out there… And it should be relatively easy brokering a deal with Marussia to release him.

  14. Pan Papadeas says:

    Ferrari wants a second driver to help Alonso. right now their car is far from the first row. If they decide to fight this season and not scrap it they should hire a driver that has the characteristics of Alonso. mainly a driver that can drive a ill handling car and adapt his driving style to the car. i haven’t watched Glock much but i think he could be that man. With so much restrictions to testing .. switching to a driver that has even 6 months to race is not a good option.

  15. Pan Papadeas says:

    also the part benny_rex suggested putting bianchi to the marussia seat plus a deal for Ferrari engines (with a small discount) could make everybody happy. ferrari getting a tested driver, bianchi getting time with f1 car and pirelli tires, marussia gets money, driver and perhaps engines.

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