Formula One is all about relative performance. One may regard Felipe Massa’s steady, and surprisingly rapid, decline in performance as a disaster, and you would be forgiven for doing so. But the real story of Felipe’s Formula One narrative lies in relativity. Compared to his illustrious teammate, Felipe has actually made a marginal gain in points since last season at the halfway mark compared to Alonso. That is where Felipe needs to build from.
In 2010, the partnership between Felipe and Fernando was significantly more two-sided than it is today. When the circus took its summer break that season, Fernando had 141 points and was in a very tight 5-way fight for the title, while his teammate was resting on 97 points, and already assuming the supporting role for the rest of the season.
From this point on, everything was downhill for Felipe. In 2011, at the same point in the championship, Felipe had 70 points while Fernando had made a slight gain at 145. The next year the story was even worse for the Brazilian, as a paltry 25 points at the summer break was stacked up unceremoniously to his championship-leading teammate’s 164. This was a low point (in more ways than one) for Felipe, yet it marked the beginning of an unprecedented turnaround for the Brazilian that season where, besides Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Jenson Button, Felipe was the highest scorer in the field. Felipe had not enjoyed stats like that for years.
The upturn in form following the 2012 summer break convinced Ferrari that Felipe was now a reliable driver; one who could help the team secure a constructors’ championship in the near future.
This all seemed reasonably feasible in 2013, as the combination of a reinvigorated Felipe Massa, and ever-determined Fernando Alonso and a much more competitive car indicated a positive season was about to begin. Indeed, this renewed optimism was underscored by two early wins from Fernando and a podium in Spain from Felipe (along with other impressive drives). However, around the British Grand Prix this year, things turned sour for Ferrari and, incidentally, for Felipe.
As we approach the resumption of the Formula One season in Belgium, I ask you to glance at the midseason stats of the Ferrari drivers. Felipe rests on 61 points while Fernando has dropped to 133 from last year’s 164. The tables have turned this season as we see an improvement from Felipe and a dip in performance from the once unflappable Fernando Alonso. The Spaniard has even admitted, much to the annoyance of Ferrari, that an improvement must be made soon in order for his championship challenge to remain possible.
But all of this is relative, right? Ferrari has improved from last year, no question, but have others gotten worse? We can count Mercedes out of that group, and perhaps Red Bull and Lotus. All three have either improved massively, or stayed the same. Relatively, of course. Mclaren, Sauber and Williams could be the catalyst for Ferrari’s perceived improvements. Mclaren was a clear frontrunner last season, and the surprising but inconsistent pace of the Sauber and Williams often took a lot of points away from the underperforming Ferraris.
Like I said, it’s all relative. The peaks and troughs throughout a Formula One season are all interdependent. Each nuance in the championship standing is not always because of one team’s surge in performance. Formula One is a game of give and take, and often one team’s gain is another’s loss.
Regardless, Felipe once again finds himself in the same position he has found himself at the halfway point of the past three years. He faces being dropped from Ferrari’s lineup next season, a season in which the competition to take that seat is hotter than it has ever been. Will Felipe find the performance to delay his inevitable retirement, or has he well and truly hit his limit? We’ll have to see what the rest of the field has to do with it. We know how important they can be…