Felipe Massa and Ferrari have both hit back at accusations that in the light of the Hockenheim 'team orders' controversy earlier this summer, the Brazilian is now a number two driver at the Scuderia
, with Luca di Montezemolo asserting that the 2008 F1 World Championship runner-up 'is and will always stay a number one driver' at the team, and the man himself insisting he is not
another Rubens Barrichello.
Much has been made since the German Grand Prix in late July about Massa's standing at Maranello, particularly given the fact that team-mate Fernando Alonso has routinely held the upper hand over him performance-wise this season, and arguably also a distinct psychological edge ever since ruthlessly and unceremoniously barging him onto the grass on the entry to the pit-lane in Shanghai earlier on in the year.
The manner in which Massa was rather crassly manoeuvred aside by his team at Hockenheim in order to let Alonso through to triumph and thereby bolster his hopes of claiming a third world championship crown this season led many to surmise that the Paulista's days as a credible force in F1 – for as long as he remains at Ferrari, at least – are numbered.
What's more, with Alonso now almost within touching-distance of Mark Webber in the title standings with four races left to run, Massa it would appear is resigned to the status of a subservient support driver over the remainder of the F1 2010 campaign – but the 29-year-old is adamant that whilst he may have to play the team game for the moment, he will be in no mood to settle meekly into a 'second fiddle' role once hostilities pick up again next year.
“For sure I am not Ferrari's second Rubens Barrichello,” the eleven-time grand prix-winner told German publication Sport Bild
, alluding to the compliant if not always willing rear-gunner role that his countryman played to Michael Schumacher at Ferrari from 2000 to 2005. “If that happens, I will stop driving – I'm not going to go racing to be eligible for second place.
“Fernando is very good, definitely, but he is not better than my other team-mates. It's just myself not being as good as usual. I have had big problems with the tyres – for my driving style, even the soft tyres are too hard – and I'm sure many other drivers have had the same problem. I don't think Michael has forgotten how to drive...”
Conceding only that he was 'extremely disappointed' by the events of Hockenheim, having now officially written off his own chances of lifting the laurels in 2010, Massa accepts that his task henceforth this year is to 'take points away' from Alonso's rivals whilst backing his team-mate up, and rubbished rumours that he has had to agree to submit to his team's wishes in order to hold onto his seat.
The Prancing Horse's president di Montezemolo, meanwhile, has pointed to Alonso's back-to-back victories in Italy and Singapore last month as proof positive that the right call was made in Germany – and affirms that Massa can now play just as pivotal a part in helping to secure title glory by perfecting the wing-man role.
“It's an important time and I'm sure that everyone will give everything they have in order to achieve our objectives,” the Italian is quoted as having said by The Associated Press
ahead of this weekend's Japanese Grand Prix at Suzuka, which he will not be attending but for which he is confident the whole team is 'very focussed and determined'. di Montezemolo had previously called for 'a strong Massa who will shave points off rivals'.
“Felipe is and will always stay a number one driver for Ferrari,” he added. “I expect the performances of a number one driver from him – both in the next four races and, with different tyres, next year. Those will be crucial to bring us wins next season and to take important points from our opponents in the battle for this world championship.”