Does Massa deserve another chance?Laurence Edmondson November 12, 2013
Watching Felipe Massa at Ferrari in recent years has been a painful experience. Between the on-track errors and off-track excuses there has been just one constant hanging over him: A nagging doubt about his future.
The uncertainty has been present since 2010 when he returned from a horrific accident at the Hungaroring the previous year. He found himself immediately back in the deep-end with Fernando Alonso as his team-mate and an improved - but not perfect - Ferrari underneath him. Initially he kept his head above water with two podiums in his first two races, but it was clear he wasn't as sharp as he had been before his accident - or as sharp as Alonso. Nevertheless, at the German Grand Prix - exactly one year after his head injuries in Hungary - everything appeared to click back into place. He was on his way to victory and ahead of Alonso by rights, but just as the comeback looked complete Ferrari issued team orders and he was forced to concede victory. He hasn't looked like winning a race since.
Massa's success has always been as much about his confidence as anything else. His championship challenge in 2008 proved he is a quick driver, but since becoming a clear No. 2 to Alonso he has struggled to re-find that form. Instead he has played the Ferrari game, becoming a willing accomplice to Alonso's championship challenges in return for annual extensions to his contract (up until 2014). But with each act of submission, his head has dropped further and his own chances of another victory have looked slimmer and slimmer.
In a period when Alonso has taken 11 victories for Ferrari, Massa has managed just eight podiums (five of which were in his comeback year in 2010). 2013 has arguably been one of his worst seasons to date as he has scored just 106 points to Alonso's 217, not to mention a series of weekend-ruining errors between Monaco and Germany. The only surprise about Ferrari's decision to ditch Massa is that it didn't come sooner.
The stay of execution did neither Ferrari nor Massa any favours, as the team has struggled for constructors' points and the Brazilian's reputation has continued to suffer. For a driver who thrives on confidence, being under the Ferrari spotlight has not helped and, based on his results alone, he should be out of the sport.
But instead he has a fresh opportunity with Williams in 2014, joining a struggling team as the more experienced driver. A series of good results will make him look like Grove's saviour, while bad results will be more easily swept under the carpet. It should help boost his confidence and for Massa there is no better opportunity for him to prove to the world that he still has what it takes.
For Williams, Massa has reserves of Ferrari know-how that should help the team develop after an uneasy and largely unsuccessful relationship with Pastor Maldonado. What's more, if his Ferrari race engineer Rob Smedley makes the move as well, Massa comes to the team as a very well-rounded package. It's also no secret that Williams intends to go sponsor hunting in Brazil on the back of Massa's name. The severance package with Maldonado and PDVSA will help pay the bills in the interim period, but the team will need another source of revenue when the full costs of the 2014 season kick in. Meanwhile, it balances the talent-versus-cash equation with Valtteri Bottas in the 'No.2' car.
For Williams and Massa, therefore, it's a deal that makes sense; even if it's unlikely to deliver either back to their former glory.
Laurence Edmondson is deputy editor of ESPNF1