This driver’s season panned out in almost the exact opposite way in which the previous two’s did. He started out lost in a car in which he teammate was making the best of it, and was left to fight in midfield obscurity. After the summer break, however, his season turned around in a big way.
8. Felipe Massa
Many will object to Massa’s place on this list owing to his comparatively dismal start to the 2012 season. However, I think Massa put in performances worthy of the terrible car he was given. Alonso just massively outdrove the car in the beginning which made Felipe look bad.
After a slightly disappointing 2011 campaign, Ferrari were looking to put something a bit out there on the track during testing. They accomplished this when Alonso said that the car was 2 seconds of the pace, at least.
Going into Melbourne, Ferrari were looking to just limit the damage until the test at Mugello before the Spanish Grand prix. In qualifying, Massa qualified in 16th place. Things weren’t looking good. In the race, Felipe was just as, if not even more miserable, as progress was minimal other than on the first lap. Just before the end of the race, though, while battling for 14th place with Bruno Senna, he ran wide and hit the side of his countryman’s car and had to retire.
In Malaysia, the misery subsided slightly as he qualified in 12th place. The rain on Sunday provided an opportunity to take advantage of a good strategy. However, it was his teammate who did the job and duly won in the wayward F2012. Felipe was left scrambling around in 15th place in the end, one lap down to his triumphant teammate, AND his possible replacement, Sergio Perez.
In China, he brought the car home, pointless in 13th place, with rumors continuing of a possible mid-season sacking for the Brazilian.
In Bahrain, Felipe finally scored some points in 9th place, while keeping Hamilton, in 8th, on his toes.
The ‘mid’-season test after Bahrain provided Ferrari with an opportunity to heavily update their car and figure out why the F2012 was so hard to control and keep facing the right direction.
The test paid off for Alonso, who went on to finish 2nd in the race. For Felipe, however, the race was just more of the previous 4 races, as he qualified 16th and finished 15th, a lap down to his teammate. Pressure was starting to mount on the Brazilian as he searched for answers to his woes and as his teammate surged to the top of the championship standings.
In Monaco, Formula 1 was greeted with a Felipe Massa back on the pace, the tight confines of the principality providing the F2012 with a sort of fault disguise. Felipe qualified 7th and stuck with the leaders in a race-long battle to finish 6th, just 5 seconds down on the winner, Webber.
So, spirits were up, and when Felipe qualified 6th in Canada, it looked like this return to form was here to stay. The race proved less straightforward, as a spin on the 6th lap sent Felipe back to 12th place. In a race dictated by tire conservation, it was difficult to make huge progress, but he pushed through to get a solitary point in 10th place.
In Valencia, a tight and twisty street course gave the still struggling brazilian hope for the race. It was not to be as he and his teammate both missed out on Q3. Alonso went on to miraculously win the race, while Felipe was left struggling in 16th place. There were still no answers to be found for his woes.
The fast and flowing nature of Silverstone shouldn’t have played to the strengths of the Ferrari. However, the rain in qualifying did. Some hope at last came for Felipe in the form of 5th place on the grid. In the race, he really delivered and kept the leaders in his sights and took advantage of Schumacher’s tire wear to finish a fantastic 4th place, just 2 spots down on his teammate.
In Germany, a wet qualifying session mixed up the order a little, but 14th place on the grid was certainly not how Felipe wanted the order to end up. He made little progress in the race and finished a lonely 12th place.
Following this was a relatively low-key finish to 9th place in Hungary.
The summer break provided an opportunity to regroup and recharge the batteries before the last races of the season. With the threat of a mid-season sacking having left the area of probability, Felipe took time to think about his problems.
Upon returning to Belgium, it seemed these problems had not been solved. Qualifying 14th was not the way to start the second half of the season. On Sunday, Felipe took advantage of the huge start-line crash, and some good race pace, to finish an admirable 5th in a race which saw the unraveling of his teammates championship hopes.
This marked the immediate turn in Felipe’s fortunes. From Italy to Brazil, Felipe finished 4-8-2-4-6-7-4-3. The second place, In Japan, marked the best race of Felipe’s entire season. A disappointing qualifying session saw him 11th, but a great start and some canny driving to avoid the crashes in the first corner saw him up to 4th place by the end of the first lap. Throughout the race, Felipe made constant inroads on Kobayashi and Button to finish a remarkable second place behind Vettel. In a race which saw his teammate crash out, Felipe picked up the pieces and showed the world what he could do when it really mattered.
In Brazil, Felipe made an extremely emotional return to the podium after the craziest race of the season. The crafty Brazilian made a great start to run second for a few laps and drive through the changing conditions to back up his team and help them to second in the Constructors’ Championship.
Felipe’s season was one of immense disappointment and extreme elation. He fought through extreme pressure and a tricky car to be the 4th highest scoring driver of the second half of the season behind Vettel, Alonso and Button. While many believe this was’t enough to make up for the first half, I believe it was. Felipe deserves the drive for next year. If he doesn’t perform again, it will be, unfortunately, time for Ferrari to replace him with someone else. There are many knocking on the doors at Maranello who desperately want a top drive for 2014. But, if Felipe can up his game and support Fernando next year, maybe Ferrari will keep him. I wouldn’t mind that.