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Massa's endgame?

Once again the Brazilian future with the team from Maranello is in peril.
Wednesday, July 10, 2013

July 10th, 0213 (F1plus/G. Keilloh).- F1 matters move on very quickly. And if you need recent evidence of this you need look no further than to the curious case of Felipe Massa. It seems no time since, earlier in the year, we were declaring Felipe as finally being back to his best. He looked confident out of the car and quick in it, and had out qualified his haughty team mate Fernando Alonso four times in a row. Some of the excitable started to talk about his 'getting under Alonso's skin'.

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Yet before we know it we seem almost back to where we started. Massa's in the doldrums again, his last four race weekends have each featured at least one accident or spin (and he's scored but 12 points in this time), including in the latest race in the Nurburgring where he spun off after four laps, which the man himself admitted subsequently was a driver error.

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Equally suddenly the wolves are at Massa's door regarding his 2014 Ferrari future - in poor timing the slump has coincided with the point that moves to firm up drivers for the following year gather pace.

Admittedly Massa was running ahead of Alonso at the time of his latest misdemeanour. But, if we're to be brutal, that's always been the way with Massa: that he is capable of going quickly but also that mistakes never seem too far away.

These have been his traits going right back to his early days at Sauber (traits which led to Jacques Villeneuve describing Massa as 'probably the worst driver out there' is his debut year of 2002).

He seems a very reflexy sort of driver, one that asks a lot of his car, but the flip side is that he never seems to offer himself much of a safety margin, and also that he doesn't appear to know any way other than to push.

If he has a car that is ultra-planted, as he had in 2008, then he might broadly get away with it, but even in that season - viewed very much as Massa's personal tour de force - there were errors, most notably in Malaysia when he spun away an easy second place, discarding points that would have comfortably tilted the title in his favour as things transpired.

That Massa's still at Ferrari owes to a few things. Part of it is chance in that credible alternatives haven't materialised: Robert Kubica got injured; Mark Webber and Jenson Button turned Ferrari down. What has also helped is that these days he comes with an all-important Fernando Alonso Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

In other words Felipe can be counted on to accept his somewhat subjugated role. But equally, Ferrari wants a wing man who can bring the thing home and thus gather points for the constructors' fight, get into the front-running mix and take points from Alonso's rivals.

Massa despite many chances has yet to demonstrate that he can do these consistently; it feels rather like the Scuderia has little to lose and potentially much to gain by replacing him. Stefano Domenicali has since the German race defended Massa, but the fact that the question was raised at all is not good (and it is a little redolent of what in football they call 'the dreaded vote of confidence' before a manager is fired).

Various names are being touted in the media to replace him as we speak. And furthermore, if Massa is retained for 2014 it'll be year nine of his Ferrari frontline career, and while no stint at a single team has a finite limit on it, the 'time for a change' feeling at the Scuderia may be overwhelming. It, sadly, by now feels rather a lot like an endgame for Felipe.

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