He certainly surprised Vitantonio Liuzzi at Suzuka, but off the back of a wave of criticism of his driving at the start of the 2010 Japanese Grand Prix that removed both himself and his Force India rival from contention on the spot, Ferrari has sprung to the defence of Felipe Massa, with Luca di Montezemolo insisting the Brazilian was 'not lucky' and can even be 'the surprise of the last three races of the season'.

Massa was one of the very earliest retirements on Sunday when - following an off-colour qualifying performance that had left him down in twelfth on the grid, for which he had blamed traffic - he then found himself on the grass heading down towards Turn One for the first time, and after losing control of his F10, speared across the track from where he harpooned the FIF1 of innocent party Liuzzi.

Whilst he had already conceded that his own title hopes were over for this year despite mathematically still standing a chance, the 2008 F1 World Championship runner-up is now altogether out of the equation to lift the laurels at 92 points adrift of the top of the drivers' table - and resigned to helping crown-chasing team-mate Fernando Alonso over the remaining three grands prix in Korea, Brazil and Abu Dhabi.

"We knew that in this race Red Bull were practically impossible to beat, but we brought home the best possible result with Fernando, who remains firmly in the title battle," Ferrari President di Montezemolo told the Scuderia's website. "The team has worked well, with commitment and concentration.

"I'm sorry for Felipe, who was certainly not lucky this weekend, [but] I'm sure that he will be the surprise of the last three races of the season. After this bad day, he will be desperately keen to react and we will do everything to give him the possibility to win."

Massa was deemed fortunate indeed to be contentiously spared any sanctions for his misdemeanour - when Renault rookie Vitaly Petrov was conversely handed a five-place grid demotion for the following race for his own similar start-line error that wiped out both himself and Williams ace Nico H?lkenberg - and the 29-year-old Paulista maintained that he will continue to fight to the end of the campaign.

"We still have three races, and we don't know what is going to happen in Korea which is a completely new track - many things can happen," he underlined. "I am a driver - I always drive for the best position. I know I cannot fight for the championship, but anyway I will try my best."