Pressure to perform a weight on Felipe Massa's mind to stay at Ferrari

Ferrari are keen to keep him on roster, but on one condition - Brazilian must improve his track performance

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 05 September, 2013, 3:55am

Nice to see Mark Webber at Silverstone at the weekend. He was wandering around the grid of the MotoGP seemingly without a care in the world, which compared to the average F1 driver is probably true.

Webber has, of course, decided to race away from Formula One next year, but for those whose ambitions only encompass the top of the tree it's an anxious time. It's especially anxious if you are an under-pressure Ferrari driver in the hothouse atmosphere of Monza.

You have to feel sorry for Felipe Massa, who was the recipient of some classic good news/bad news this week from the Ferrari hierarchy. Good news: we want to keep you for next season. Bad news: only if your results improve on the track this year.

Five years ago, he thought he was world champion, only for Lewis Hamilton to snatch the crown on the last bend of the last race in front of his home Brazilian crowd. You can only imagine the psychological damage that would have inflicted.

Since then he has endured a torrid time, not winning a single race and managing only eight podiums. In that time Fernando Alonso has won 11 races in 39 trips to the podium. Massa has also had to come back from the accident that nearly killed him when he was struck in the helmet by a stray spring from another car.

You could understand if this bad luck and misfortune started to mess with your head, and for Massa it seems to have been the case. This time last year he was on the brink of being dumped by Ferrari after a slump in form. He was thinking of quitting the sport altogether.

Instead he engaged the services of a sport psychologist and started to show his unquestioned ability again. He will need to do that again with Ferrari team principal Stefano Domenicali not offering unwavering support in the race for a 2014 seat.

"My favourite choice would be, of course, to keep Felipe," he said. "Felipe is a very good guy - very dedicated to the team. But, of course, we need good results from Felipe."

The stage is set at Ferrari's home race this weekend, with hordes of tifosi in attendance. With an improved car after upgrades delivered at Spa, don't rule out an act of defiance from Massa.

Talking of Ferrari men under pressure, former team boss Jean Todt has to deal with a challenge to his authority at the sport's governing body, the FIA. He is facing an election if he wants to stay president, although he has not indicated yet whether he wants another four-year term.

If he does stand and fight, his opponent will be David Ward, as this column speculated earlier in the season. Standing down from the FIA foundation to fight the election, Ward is a canny politician who once advised the British Labour Party and was a confident of former FIA boss Max Mosley. If he wins, it will be interesting to see if he, like Mosley, takes a more hands-on approach to F1.

Finally, one man who is not under pressure at Ferrari. Alonso may have been upset about the performance of his car this season, but he has found a way to relieve stress and tension. Often the advice from those who know is to take up a hobby. In Alonso's case, being a man of means, he's bought his hobby.

Alonso loves cycling. Like many other drivers, it is a good way of keeping fit outside of the cockpit of the car. This week news emerged that he has bought his own cycling team.

Euskaltel Euskadi are a team based in the Basque area of Spain. He has spent €6 million (HK$61 million) to rescue the team after a sponsorship deal fell through. The team are said to be one of the oldest in the professional ranks, and until recently only allowed Basque riders in the team.

As you will witness this weekend, Alonso is a hero in Italy for his exploits for Ferrari. He is already a legend in Spain for his achievements on four wheels. His actions this week for Spanish sport on two wheels will only increase his standing in the national sporting pantheon.