A defiant Felipe Massa has rubbished suggestions that 2011 will be a make-or-break season for him in F1 off the back of an unconvincing 2010 campaign – reasoning that 'over the years, the names of at least ten drivers have been put forward as replacements for me at Ferrari, but I am still here!'
After finishing as runner-up in the world championship in 2008, Massa again largely had the measure of former title-winning team-mate Kimi Raikkonen in 2009 prior to his terrifying high-speed accident during qualifying at the Hungaroring in late July that not only derailed the Brazilian's challenge right in its tracks, but very nearly cost him his life, or at the very least his sight.
Many were sceptical as to whether he would be able to return at all, and pre-season in 2010, there were question marks over just how much the shunt had affected him. A distant sixth position in the chase for the crown whilst Fernando Alonso did battle for glory right to the bitter end, allied to the high-profile ignominy of having to cede victory to his team-mate at Hockenheim and thereafter being cast into a subservient supporting role over the remainder of the year meant it was far from a glittering campaign for the Paulista – but he is adamant that he is no less a driver or fighter than he was before.
Insistent that the accident was not the cause of his lack of form in 2010 and rather blaming his inability to get to grips as it were with the new Bridgestone Potenza tyres, after reporting 'positive' impressions from testing the 2011-spec Pirelli rubber in Abu Dhabi earlier this month, Massa is confident that he will be back on the pace next year and back in contention – and he brusquely dismissed notions that his seat at Maranello is at risk should he fail to perform to expectations for a second consecutive season, with Renault's Robert Kubica believed to be waiting patiently in the wings.
“I don't think 2011 signifies a crucial year for me,” asserted the 29-year-old, speaking during the Scuderia's
annual World Finals day in Valencia. “Fundamentally, I have been in this situation often. I remember that at the start of 2006, many people said I would only last a year at Ferrari – and then I won races that season and went on to stay for a long time more.
“In 2008, there was a lot of pressure, especially at the start, but I managed to cross the line at the end of the final race as world champion. This year, there were many who said I would have a difficult year after my accident in Budapest; it turned out that way, but not for that reason.
“My approach always remains the same – starting the championship with the aim of winning as many races as possible. Over the years, the names of at least ten drivers have been put forward as replacements for me at Ferrari, but I am still here!”
Indeed, Massa was
briefly F1 World Champion on home turf at Interlagos two years ago – for all of a matter of seconds, before McLaren-Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton's dramatic final lap pass on Toyota's Timo Glock snatched it away from him at the very last gasp – and he conceded that he could draw parallels with Alonso's experience in the 2010 Abu Dhabi finale, and could empathise with the Spaniard's pain.
“They were both very difficult moments for the team,” the eleven-time grand prix-winner reflected. “Sure, in Brazil two years ago, going into the grand prix, we did not have much of a chance. During the race, the situation developed so that it looked as though I could win, but it all changed in the last two corners. Two weeks ago, on the other hand, Fernando set off leading the classification, but we know how it turned out in the end. You cannot compare the two situations, but I can understand how my team-mate felt.”