The first race of the season in Melbourne went as per predictions, and not just as far as the podium finishers were concerned. Felipe Massa put up yet another predictable (in this case, disappointing) performance, thereby providing fodder to his critics who have been questioning his place in Ferrari.
Massa’s fall from the heady days of 2008 when he almost won the championship has been steep. (In 2008, he lost the title to Lewis Hamilton on the last lap of the last race by a single point). With a morale boosting result under his belt, he was one of the contenders for the 2009 title. However, unfortunately, he couldn’t make much of an impact as his first few races were compromised because of problems with his car. Around mid-season, he was involved in a scary accident which put him out of action for the remaining part of 2009. (Massa suffered a skull fracture after a suspension spring from Rubens Barrichello’s car had struck his helmet)
In 2008 and 2009, his teammate at Ferrari was Kimi Raikkonen, who in those two years didn’t look motivated enough to lead the team’s title charge. As a result, Massa had enough room to establish himself in the team, something in which he was partly successful. However, for 2010, the team replaced Raikkonen with double world champion Fernando Alonso who was the best driver at that time.
With Alonso as teammate, Massa was always going to play second fiddle. What’s more, his performance was going to be judged against that of Alonso in every race. This is exactly what happened in the next two years.
In 2010, Alonso performed brilliantly against the odds to come within striking distance of the championship. He was unlucky to have missed out on winning the title in the last race because of the team’s pit stop blunder. Massa, though, could only manage to finish 6th in the championship, a whopping 108 points less than Alonso. (Compare this with the four-point différence between second placed Alonso and champion Sebastien Vettel)
If 2010 was less than satisfactory, 2011 turned out to be even worse. In the entire season, Massa couldn’t manage a single podium finish, something unpardonable if you are in a Ferrari. His overall championship points tally was lesser than 2010. He again finished a lowly sixthth place with the fifth placed Lewis Hamilton being a good 100 odd points ahead. Throughout 2011, there was spéculation about Massa’s future with Ferrari and by the end of the season, many people opined that he should be replaced. However, for 2012, Ferrari have persisted with Massa, who has a contract with the Italian team till the end of this year.
If Massa was hoping for a turnaround in his fortunes this season, the first race must have been a big dampener. It was status quo at Melbourne as he qualified a lowly 16th and retired from the race following a collision with Bruno Senna. His teammate Alonso on the other hand finished in a créditable fifth place behind the McLarens and RedBulls.
On Thursday, Ferrari denied rumours about Massa getting replaced. However, a poor result in the next couple of races could well ensure Massa's exit from Ferrari.