The 2011 driver market is coming alive with Mark Webber and Robert Kubica being linked to a supposedly vacant seat at Ferrari. Felipe Massa has been significantly outpaced by Fernando Alonso this year, and with no contract yet signed for 2011, Ferrari may be looking to replace the popular Brazilian.
Massa has driven well to score two podiums so far in 2010 but has been a long way behind the raw pace of his teammate.
Fernando Alonso has outqualfiied Massa in 4 of the 6 races this year and has scored 14 more points despite costly mistakes in Australia, China and Monaco. If Alonso had made fewer driving errors in 2010 and hadn't suffered an engine failure in Malaysia he would be comfortably leading the world championship, well ahead of Massa in the overall standings.
At the start of this year Ferrari indicated they hadn't finalised Massa's 2011 contract because there was some hesitation over how long it should last. Now there are rumours the team have abandoned those talks and are actually looking to replace Felipe with either Mark Webber or Robert Kubica.
Rumours about Mark Webber joining Ferrari surfaced after the Spanish Grand Prix when Stefano Domenicali said "we saw the performance of Mark Webber, so we need to keep that as a reference on our side". The story re-appeared following Webber's dominant victory at Monaco, and gained further momentum when Mark told reporters "I'm very close to the guys at Red Bull, we've been through a lot and I have a great relationship with them. Yet things happen and change very fast in this business and you never know what's around the corner". The Australian press have been especially keen to link Webber to the Scuderia.
Kubica has also been suggested as a possible replacement for Massa. This story started last year when Ferrari asked Kubica to take over from Luca Badoer but were unable to arrange a deal with BMW. A French newspaper has since claimed that Ferrari actually have an option on Kubica's contract for 2011 and simply need to act on that by June to have him dressed in red next year. This seems a little odd since it would make Kubica the seventh driver to be contracted to Ferrari over the past twelve months, but it may explain why the Pole has just a one year deal with Renault.
Both Webber and Kubica would be strong drivers for Ferrari but Felipe Massa is still highly likely to hold onto his seat.
Ferrari has invested a lot in the Brazilian over the past eight years. The team first signed Massa in 2002 as a test driver and guided his early Grand Prix development through Sauber. Ferrari's management kept faith in Felipe despite erratic performances in 2006 and 2007, and together they went within a lap of claiming the 2008 World Championship. Ferrari also chose to sign Massa ahead of Kimi Raikkonen this year despite Felipe missing most of the 2009 season through injury.
Massa is a very big part of the Ferrari family.
Felipe is also perfectly suited for the team at the moment. He is a proven winner and pushes Alonso hard, but isn't quick enough to regularly steal points off the double world champion. This is an ideal scenario for any team looking to win the driver’s championship. Alonso is effectively the team's number one which enables Ferrari to focus their championship efforts, but if Fernando makes a small mistake or has a mechanical issue, Massa is there to uphold the team's honour. That is exactly what has happened so far this season.
Webber would be fairly similar to Massa in that he would push Alonso hard without beating him so there seems little advantage in signing someone new to the team to effectively fill the same role.
Kubica would probably have better raw pace than Webber and Massa but might not be as consistent, and might also be in a position to occasionally steal points off Alonso which isn't ideal.
Ferrari might be happy to let the press build up stories about Webber or Kubica joining the team in order to place some pressure on Felipe. Perhaps they figure he will improve his performances if his job is on the line.
Webber and Kubica would also happy to let the rumours gather momentum because it increases their own value in contract negotiations.
Felipe has been in this position before. In 2006 he made three big mistakes in the first two races and faced calls for his sacking. A similar situation occurred in 2007, but Massa bounced back with solid results and will be hoping to do the same again in 2010.
The silly season has already begun.
This page was written by Martin Porter and posted by James Wilson