4 Aug 2012

Ferrari - The question of Massa's replacement

If, as now seems to be the case, Ferrari have not taken the option on Felipe Massa's drive for 2013 and beyond the question now is who will drive for Scuderia Ferrari next year?

The list of possible candidates is quite long not least because any driver with a reasonable amount of form and no 2013 contract is in with a shout.  But also because Ferrari has a long history of the number 2 driver being just that - number 2.

The last partnership of equals at Ferrari was Jean Alesi and Gerhard Berger in 1995.  Berger was the more naturally talented driver but Alesi's passion and flair more than made up for any lack of precision. Plus he was a consistent points scorer.

In 1997 Ferrari signed Michael Schumacher, following his two world championships at Benetton.  They needed not just talented drivers - they needed the best.  The team had not won a world championship since Jody Scheckter's crown in 1979.  Schumacher had a hand in the signing of the number 2, Eddie Irvine,  a talented but tempestuous young Irishman who had done wonders in the Jordan and managed to earn a punch from Ayrton Senna when he had the temerity to unlap himself.

But Irvine was most definitely a number 2 at Ferrari.  Never mind, 'Fernando is faster than you' it is alleged that Schumacher had the best mechanics, the best and newest parts and generally the faster car in order to push himself, and Ferrari, to that elusive world championship - which he achieved in 2000.

Irvine knew his role and grew into it.  He was highly paid, drove the best car on the grid and crucially drove for Ferrari.  He accepted his place with grace and very nearly won the championship when Schumacher was sidelined with a broken leg in 1999.

Irvine was generally happy to accept team orders and act as Schumacher's rear gunner.  Not so his replacement, Rubens Barrichello.  Barrichello, then an up and coming young, but experienced, driver had driven for Jordan for three seasons and Stewart four two seasons.

Rubens was everything that Irvine wasn't.  Passionate, emotional and, crucially, fiercely competitive.  Rubens accepted the Ferrari drive not so he could be Schumacher's number 2 but because it was his chance to drive for the Scuderia -  something he'd dreamed of since his childhood.

Despite some success (occasionally beating Schumacher) his five seasons with the Scuderia proved to be frustrating for Rubens.  Where he was required to accept team orders he did so generally with good grace - but it ate away at him.  At the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix Rubens was told to allow Schumacher through.  He did - but not until the final straight of the last lap.  This was Rubens telling the world that on that day he was the better driver.

Rubens honestly thought he could beat Schumacher but was never allowed to.  His replacement, Felipe Massa, joined Ferrari in 2006 with higher expectations.

Massa had been groomed by Ferrari for a number of years.  He had been schooled in the Ferrari engined Sauber and was touted as a potential replacement for Schumacher.

They drove together for just one season.  Michael as number 1 and Felipe as number 2.  Schumacher then retired and was replaced by Kimi Raikkonen in 2007.

The Raikonnen/Massa pairing was not such a straightforward 1 and 2 as had been the case in previous years but Kimi gained the upper hand on his Brazilian team mate and won the 2007 world championship.

In 2008 Massa won more races, and points, than Raikkonen - who's form dipped substantially.  The tide seemed to be turning but in 2009 two things happened that would change the balance of power.  Felipe Massa crashed heavily and had to sit out part of the season - and Ferrari signed Fernando Alonso.

And so it was that from 2010 until 2012 Felipe Massa has been the definite number 2 driver.  His form has fluctuated.  Sometimes Felipe has been a great driver, sometimes not, but in 2012 his form has dipped substantially and more often than not he has been racing with the back markers whilst his illustrious team-mate has been on the podium.

Alonso is set to remain at Ferrari for the foreseeable future.  Massa is unlikely to remain at Maranello in 2013.  Ferrari need a new driver who will be happy to accept the number 2 role.  we know from past experience that Fernando Alonso cannot accept a team mate on an equal footing and we also know that Ferrari are quite happy to give their star driver a subservient team-mate.

The shortlist of potential replacements includes:

  • Kimi Raikonnen - unlikely.  Would not be happy paired with Alonso.  Seems happy at Lotus and Fernando would certainly not enjoy being challenged from within his own team.
  • Jenson Button - unlikely.  We can see Jenson at Ferrari in the future but not as a subservient team-mate.  Has risen to challenges before (everybody thought Lewis would wipe the floor with him at McLaren) and may look for a new challenge in the future but Jenson has unfinished business at McLaren.
  • Sergio Perez - maybe.  Checo has the talent, the background and would accept a role at Ferrari.  But it would be more as a potential number 1 driver once Alonso has left.  Likely to stay elsewhere with a view to joining Ferrari in between one and three years time.
  • Bruno Senna - unlikely.  Bruno has the name and the dollars but Ferrari is a bigger name and don't need the dollars.  If Bruno is seen as not being good enough for Williams (which may yet happen) then why would a more successful team pick him up?
  • Paul DiResta - unikely.  Young and showing well against his team mate.  Paul is on an upward trajectory.  But it is a Mercedes trajectory - not Ferrari.
  • Heikki Kovalainen - definately maybe.  Heikki squandered his opportunity at McLaren - but then again his team mate was one of F1's most talented drivers.  He has since rekindled his form and has regained his reputation at Caterham.  he may well have the opportunity to take Caterham higher up the grid but this will take time.  If Heikki is offered a Ferrari contract he is sure to accept it.  The opportunity to drive for a top team - the most famous team in F1 - may not arise again in his career.

It is our prediction that Heikki Kovalainen will drive for Ferrari, alongside Fernando Alonso in 2013.  And that he will be a definite number 2.