x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Felipe Massa's tough fight ahead to stay in Formula One

The Brazilian journalists who spoke to him after Sunday's race said they had never seen him so downcast; his confidence and self-belief has fallen off a cliff.

Felipe Massa has a fight ahead of him to prove his worth in Formula One.
Felipe Massa has a fight ahead of him to prove his worth in Formula One.

For the rest of the season Felipe Massa remains a Ferrari driver: he will wear the team kit, he will drive the F2012, he will work out of the Italian manufacturers' Maranello base. But Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix will be remembered as the day the Brazilian lost his race seat.

In finishing 15th, 14 places and 97.3 seconds behind his teammate Fernando Alonso, Massa did himself no favours, yet it was the performance of Sergio Perez, Sauber's young Mexican who raced to second in inclement weather, that provided the final blow. Now it is no longer a case of whether Perez will partner Alonso, but simply a matter of when. He is a member of Ferrari's Driver Academy after all.

Perez said before the race that he intends to stay at Sauber for the rest of the season. It would be unwise for him to renege on that promise.

Given their size and stature it would be hard to say no to Ferrari, but why swap the stability of Sauber to join a troubled team with arguably a slower car midway through the season?

Certainly, Ferrari will improve, but there is a lot to be said for undertaking a full pre-season of testing and, at 22 years old, Perez is in no rush: Sunday's drive has secured him the seat already.

Massa in contrast is now in a desperate rush, not to save his seat - that chance has gone - but to prove that he can be of value to a team in the middle order for next season.

With the exception of Sauber, there is little evidence so far that there will be many vacancies next season.

The Brazilian journalists who spoke to him after Sunday's race said they had never seen him so downcast; his confidence and self-belief has fallen off a cliff.

His problems often are linked to his accident in Hungary in 2009 when he was forced to miss the second half of the season after being knocked unconscious mid-race and required a titanium plate to be inserted into his skull.

That issue, however, masks the fact Massa simply cannot make Pirelli's tyres work.

In 2010 - after his injury but before Pirelli - Massa managed five podiums, including two in his first two races since the accident; in 2011, with the introduction of the quicker-wearing tyres, he failed to finish in the top three at all and his best position was fifth.

Perez on the other hand, has from the moment he first got behind the wheel on his F1 debut in Australia last year, proved to be the master of the smooth drive.

In Melbourne 12 months ago, he surprised the entire field by completing the race having pitted only once and he replicated that strategy again at Albert Park last week. In both instances, Massa required three stops.

Until Massa can adapt his driving style to better suit the tyres he will struggle. And not just on the track, but also in the search for a new team. Which will have no doubt tentatively started already.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

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