Time may be running out for Massa

April, 4, 2012

There was a brief moment in 2008 when it appeared that Felipe Massa was a world champion.

At the season finale in Brazil, Massa was the man to cross the line first, and the celebrations began for Ferrari. But in the waning moments, Lewis Hamilton claimed the position he needed to secure the championship from Massa by just a single point.

It was an unimaginably heartbreaking defeat for the Brazilian in front of his home crowd after coming so close to the ultimate achievement. While one driver was celebrating a title, another was reeling from a cruel twist.

Since that close call, Massa has been forced to endure some very trying times.

The following year, Massa was struck in the helmet by debris while qualifying in Hungary. He was sidelined for the rest of the year while recovering, but made a triumphant comeback at Bahrain to open the 2010 season, finishing on the podium.

Despite the impressive return, he has yet to win since that 2008 campaign, a year in which he enjoyed a half-dozen victories, and has consistently been overshadowed by his latest teammate, Fernando Alonso.

While this season is still young, it has been anything but positive for Massa, as he's started outside the top 10 in both events. China is certainly going to be a pivotal qualifying session, considering the veteran hasn't started three straight races from 10th or worse since his days with Sauber in 2005.

Alonso's victory in Malaysia only brought Massa's troubles more into the spotlight. Rumors have swirled over a possible replacement driver at Ferrari, much as they did during last season. A podium finish would seemingly go a long way toward quelling doubts, but that appears to be a lofty goal, considering he has not finished among the top three since 2010.

Following his near brush with a championship in 2008, it appeared as if Massa was destined to compete among the top drivers for years to come, but that has simply not been the case. He has since struggled to keep pace with the strongest runners, posting just six podiums in 49 races since 2009.

Compare that with his first three seasons with Ferrari, when he tallied 27 in 53 grands prix.

It has often appeared since his comeback that he has simply been the victim of plain misfortune, with a prime example occurring in Germany in 2010. Massa was looking strong and fighting for the victory, but team orders prevailed, and he was essentially forced to move aside and allow Alonso to overtake.

Even on a day when Massa was excelling, he ultimately had to experience bitter defeat.

Massa is not backing down, however, and has been working hard to turn his fortunes around, as he described on Ferrari's website: "I met my engineer Rob Smedley and I spent a lot of time with Pat Fry, going over everything that happened, because this is the only way I think we can understand the reasons behind these two bad weekends. I am disappointed, there is no denying it: not scoring any points in two races hurts, but now it's time to turn the page. It's not the first time I've gone through a difficult moment like this and I know well that things can change quickly."

It's looking pretty bleak for Massa these days, and his time with Ferrari certainly appears limited. The pace of the Ferrari will be a major storyline over the coming weeks and months. Perhaps with some innovations, the car -- and Massa -- can become a consistent competitor.



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