Massa’s biggest supporters fear his F1 career is on brink of collapse
15 May, 2012
May 15 (GMM) Speculation is mounting that Felipe Massa is on the verge of being replaced as Fernando Alonso’s teammate at Ferrari. After yet another below par performance, this time at the Spanish Grand Prix, even his allies in the Brazilian media are fearing his demise. This has prompted a frenzy of speculation over possible replacements.
Team boss Stefano Domenicali fueled the speculation on Sunday by insisting that Ferrari expects the struggling Brazilian to “fight back starting in Monaco” and although Fernando Alonso is joint leader in the driver’s standings, the team is fourth in the constructor’s race and trailing the leaders by 56 points.
“We absolutely need his points to also fight for the constructors’ title,” said Domenicali.
However, prior to this, talk was already doing the rounds that Adrian Sutil could be set to play a role, should Ferrari bite the bullet and dump Massa, while Di Resta has been actively promoted by no less than Sir Jackie Stewart.
Speculation is that Sutil could either replace him directly, or replace a driver who moves from his existing team to Massa’s cockpit. It is the latter scenario that seems most likely.
Sutil, trying to resurrect his career after the Eric Lux assault affair, returned to the F1 paddock at the weekend in Barcelona, accompanied by his manager Manfred Zimmermann. They spent a lot of time at Force India, his old team.
The theory, that has emerged, is that the Anthony Hamilton managed Paul di Resta could be set to move to Ferrari, with Sutil to fill the Force India vacancy. But there is also a whisper that Nico Hulkenberg’s manager Timo Gans has been spotted in the Ferrari motor home in Spain.
“It’s important to be here,” Sutil told RTL at the Circuit de Catalunya. “Hopefully something comes of it. It’s still very early in the season, so I have to wait a bit, but on the other hand maybe I can get back into a cockpit quite quickly.”
He admitted that he spent “most of the time” during the Spanish Grand Prix with Force India.
Meanwhile axed Toro Rosso driver Jaime Alguersuari has advised Massa to relax and focus on getting his formula one career back on track.
Asked about Massa’s continuing crisis, Spaniard Alguersuari acknowledged that it is a “difficult time” in the Brazilian’s career.
“Right now the most important thing for him is to stop thinking about the external pressure and just focus on his work and his problems. Sometimes you’re not competitive, something has happened and you don’t know what it is,” Alguersuari told the Spanish newspaper AS.
“But the worst thing you can do is doubt, hesitate, get nervous and start looking at your teammate, because all that will happen is it will get worse,” he added. “Being in elite sport does not, as many believe, depend just on your skills, it’s about managing the psychological, physical and technical elements.”
“I am convinced that Massa is not now a slow driver, he can get back to being like Fernando [Alonso] and some days – why not? – faster. The only difference between the two is in the head; that’s the difference between good and best,” said Alguersuari.
Livio Oricchio, the respected F1 correspondent for O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper, fears the sport’s last Brazilian drivers – Massa and Bruno Senna – could soon lose their seats.
“As a driver, your main reference is always the work of your teammate, so in the sense that [for Massa and Senna] they are Fernando Alonso and Pastor Maldonado, it’s going very badly. At this point, only a miracle will keep Massa at Ferrari.”
“He would have to do what he has failed to do in the last two championships, which is to qualify close to Alonso and score points regularly. Neither is what a Ferrari driver is really about,” admitted Oricchio, “but it’s a huge challenge given Massa’s loss of confidence and an unbalanced car.”
Even Massa’s strongest supporters in Brazil, like the O Globo journalist Celso Itibere, admit the situation is dire.
“He is at risk,” said Itibere, “his decline is progressive, he is failing to react and he runs the real risk of not finishing the season. At this time Ferrari has no one to take the job. Everyone they would like to have there – Perez, Kobayashi, Webber – are not available.”
Tuesday’s edition of the Italian sports daily Corriere dello Sport is expected to report that Massa’s ousting is imminent.
And the latest edition of La Gazzetta dello Sport did not even once mention Massa’s name. “It is as though he does not exist,” wrote Oricchio. “Yet it is an Italian newspaper, and he is a Ferrari driver.”
When asked if he fears for his F1 career, Massa said in Barcelona last weekend: “No. I live in the present. What will happen will happen.”
Asked if he is afraid another bad performance will seal his fate, Massa insisted: “I’m not afraid of anything, especially criticism. It doesn’t affect me.”