Lack of options to save Massa’s Ferrari career?

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It’s that time of year again, folks. ‘Silly season’ got off to a rather explosive start on the Thursday of the British Grand Prix when Mark Webber confirmed his retirement from the sport at the end of the season, beginning the domino effect on the 2014 driver market. Kimi Raikkonen, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne are the three drivers in the running for this seat, but this in turn opens up a seat at either Lotus or Toro Rosso. The latter would most probably be filled by rising star Antonio Felix da Costa, and with Nico Hulkenberg in talks with Lotus, he may be off to Enstone should Raikkonen leave. Keeping up?

After another disappointing performance at the Nurburgring, the sharks are now beginning to sniff around Felipe Massa at Ferrari – just as they have for the last three or four years. The Brazilian, who came second in the 2008 drivers’ championship, has been outclassed by teammate Fernando Alonso during their four years together at the team, leaving many to question Massa’s position in Maranello. Furthermore, Ferrari’s reluctance to give him anything longer than a one year contract extension may suggest the same, with a fine run at the end of 2012 securing his place with the team for this season. Could his number finally be up, though?

It comes down to the available drivers. Ironically, Mark Webber’s availability would have suited Ferrari twelve months ago, but the Australian snubbed the move in favor of playing second-fiddle to Vettel once again this year.

Despite there being a plethora of young drivers champing at the bit for a place in Formula One, there appears to be a lack of ‘Ferrari quality’ in the mix-up. The one-time natural replacement for Massa – Nico Hulkenberg – has endured a poor start to the season due to the Sauber C32’s lack of pace, yet his performances have been good to drag it into the points. He may be in talks with Lotus, but would Ferrari be willing to hijack a deal to bring him to Maranello?

A second mooted option is Paul di Resta, although he is lacking a ‘stand out’ result during his two-and-a-half year F1 career so far. Without a podium, it is very hard to Ferrari to take on a driver, and many would also question quite whether he fits in with the team’s ‘image’. A driver who may tick this final box is Ferrari Driver Academy member Jules Bianchi, yet he too lacks any real record having competed in just nine races for Marussia so far.

Without wishing to write off the rest of Massa’s season, the popular Brazilian may be aided by a lack of options for Ferrari. Silly season still has a long summer to play out though, potentially changing the face of next year’s grid once again.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”