I wouldn’t be surprised if Ferrari do use his Japan podium as a pretext for keeping him but I think they’re looking for an excuse rather than a reason at this stage.
I think this is ultiamtely going to be the case. Unless David Croft’s comments about a surprise in the driver market refer to Ferrari making a change in their line-up.
A lot of people believe that Vettel has a pre-contract with the team to race in 2014. That would make signing for Ferrari an unappealing prospect to anyone but Felipe Massa. However, just as many people seem to think that putting Alonso and Vettel togethe will be like mixing water and electricity.
If that pre-contract exists, then the only way Ferrari would be able to get someone other than Massa would be to guarantee their second driver a continued seat with the team provided they met certain conditions. And that’s going to be a huge gamble for all involved. It’s not just the fans who think Alonso and Vettel is a bad idea – Ferrari like to take a strong lead driver with someone who can back them up all season long without challenging them, contribute to the team’s WCC campaign, and be ready to take over the championship fight if the lead driver is removed from the equation (ie, they have a string of mechanical faults or are injured, etc.). And – it’s a little hard to tell, because this has only really happened once in the last 20 years – they would want that driver to take over as the lead driver once the original lead retires.
There are only a few drivers on the grid who fit this role. Massa can do it, but his slump in form makes him the big unknown. Webber could do it, but he’s already re-signed with Red Bull, and so it would probably be very difficult to get him out (especially if they want Vettel in 2014 as well). Of the remaining drivers, Nico Hulkenberg is probably the only driver who could fit that role. Kobayashi and Kovalainen might be able to, but they’d also have big question marks looming over them. Grosjean is another maybe, but he’s too wild. And maybe Paul di Resta could, but I find he is very good at spreading the blame around at the same time as he distances himself from it when things go wrong, and I think that clashes with Ferrari’s philosophy. The only other alternative would be to take Jules Bianchi, but if they thought Perez was too inexperienced after two years in Formula 1, they’re going to look like fools if they take a total rookie.
But if that pre-contract exists, it’s a question of who outside Ferrari would be willing to spend a year with the team and no sure promise of a future in 2014. It might jsut be the one thing that saves Felipe Massa (unless Red Bull can convince Vettel to stay, at which point all bets are off).