Okay, I know: three practice sessions and a qualifying period does not make a fair indication of an entire season. Nevertheless, this is something that is going to keep coming up. Massa is under pressure to perform at Ferrari, and there has been the suggestion that he could be dropped at the end of the season – if not sooner – if he does perform.
The case for Felipe
First of all, the curse of the F2012′s appalling handling might just be a blessing in disguise for Massa. If the car is not competitive, Ferrari’s expectations might be lowered. At the very least, he will get a stay of execution until Ferrari can sort out the problems with the car.
Secondly, even if Ferrari decide to give him the boot, Massa might just be the only viable candidate for that seat. With al the talk of the F2012′s inherent twitchiness – Martin Brundle called it “evil” – any potential replacement is going to be wary of stepping into the team. Especially after Giancarlo Fisichella made the transition into Maranello in 2009. Any driver who joins the team will have to learn how to handle the car before he can start getting results, and there is never a guarantee that he will actually get said results once he is in the car. An underperforming Felipe Massa is better for Ferrari than someone who will take time getting up to speed.
The case against Felipe
It doesn’t really matter which way you cut it: Ferrari need the most competitive driver they can find. They’ve started the season on the back foot, and I would argue that both Mercedes and Lotus are looking much stronger. If Ferrari waste time assessing Massa’s performance and finding a new driver (who, as already detailed, may take several races to be reasonably competitive), they could tumble down the order. By my crude eestimation, they are fifth on the road right now, behind McLaren, Mercedes, Red Bull and Lotus. Depending on the way other teams shake out, they may be as low as seventh or eighth (possibly behind Force India/Sauber/Toro Rosso), but it’s important to bear in mind that this is a worst-case scenario, and if true, it is unlikely to remain that way for long.
The fact is that the sport is so competitive these days that Ferrari need the best two drivers available. They can’t rely on one driver to secure them a decent overall finishing position – even with a good car, they need every position and point that they can get. Firing Massa may mean his replacement takes a few races to get up to speed, but if he can be more competitive than Massa, then he needs to be in the car as soon as possible. Once a clear running order emerges, Ferrari might just cut their losses and boot Massa in favour of someone else.
So, will Felipe Massa finish the season with Ferrari? Why? And if he is to be replaced, when will Ferrari pull the trigger?