Massa, Ferrari and Perez
A conundrum in the making

The Malaysian Grand Prix provided many talking points besides Fernando Alonso’s excellent win in the Ferrari, something that surely could not have been achieved in a dry race.

Typically there are conspiracy theories surrounding the radio message to Sergio Perez, sent when the young Mexican was hustling his Sauber close to the leading Ferrari at an alarming rate. The message was:

"Checo, be careful, we need this position, we need this position."

How to interpret that message:

1) the team were concerned that Perez, in his excitement, may make a mistake and lose second place in an effort to take the lead (as almost happened soon after the message or

2) the team didn’t want to upset engine supplier and good buddies Ferrari by stealing a much-needed win from them at the last minute.

Now, the conspiracy theories are all very well – and stand up to some scrutiny – but would the team have really thrown away what may be the closest they ever come to a victory?

Peter Sauber is a shrewd operator, and knows the value of his close relationship with Ferrari, but he insists the call was a cautionary one, rather than a necessary one. Still, the rumours abound, and team orders – we must remember – are very much a controversial subject.

The second round of conspiracy theories also concerns Perez, a young man who is rapidly stating his claim to star of the future status, and his relationship with Ferrari. More to the point, this one concerns Felipe Massa.

Felipe is one of F1’s good guys, a man universally liked by all, a pleasant individual who has in the past shown signs of serious talent and prodigious speed. He almost took the title a few years back, remember, only to be pipped at the post – quite literally – by Lewis Hamilton and McLaren.

Massa is part of the Ferrari family, a driver intrinsically linked with the Maranello concern for now and forever more, but his performances of late – and we don’t just mean this season – have not been close to those in his heyday.

We all remember that horrific injury sustained when he hit a flying suspension part in Hungary.

That he wasn’t killed is a testament to the sheer strength of today’s helmet designs. It was touch and go whether he would ever return and many have surmised that he hasn’t been the same since.

There is some merit to this theory, but what is so is that he is simply not adapting to the Pirelli tyres. Alonso, on the other hand, is doing a superb job – as always – and it is showing Massa up in no small way.

That he finished over a minute down the road from Alonso on Sunday, with the team having given him a new chassis after a poor showing in Australia, will be a concern for both him and the team. Ferrari cannot afford to have one driver shining, and the other floundering. The Italian press will not accept that situation.

This is why Perez – a member of the Ferrari young drive scheme – is being touted as a replacement for the Brazilian.

Some say that the two will swap places, others that it will happen before the next race in China. Both teams, and drivers, deny all. Of course they do – this is Formula One, and it’s the norm to deny everything, even when it is true!

The question is, does swapping the two make sense? The answer is a conundrum. It makes sense for Ferrari to have a second driver who can handle the tyres, as Perez can. The problem is that the Sauber is a pretty handy racing car, arguably better – right now – than the Ferrari.

Perez, just 21, would be jumping from a car he knows and likes into one he has no experience in. The move could, in fact, make sense for Massa who is clearly under pressure at Ferrari at the moment. At Sauber he would not be so heavily burdened, and it’s a team he has history with.

Will it happen? That depends on the contractual situation Sauber has with Perez and Ferrari. If there is money to be made Sauber needs it. On the other hand, Sauber may prefer to try and hang on to his young star for longer, and hope his stock rises in the season to come.

It’s a confusing situation and one that is not pleasant for Massa. If you want my view, Massa will not be driving the Ferrari by the time the circus moves back to Europe. Whether it will be Perez in the second red car is another story. Adrian Sutil is, after all, out of a job at the moment.

Written by 3 on Mon, 26 Mar 2012 09:31:15

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