Ferrari President Luca di Montezemolo has jokingly criticised Felipe Massa's efforts during the F1 2010 World Championship campaign, saying that at times, it seemed as if the Brazilian had 'sent his brother' to drive his car in his stead.
Having suffered a life-threatening injury during qualifying at the Hungaroring midway through 2009, Massa bravely returned to the grid this year, and surprised and impressed many by out-qualifying his new double world champion team-mate Fernando Alonso in the curtain-raising Bahrain Grand Prix at Sakhir – and even led the title chase following the season's opening three races.
However, his confidence seemed to take a knock after he was brusquely and unceremoniously elbowed aside and onto the grass by the Spaniard on the entry to the pits in the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai only a fortnight later, and his momentum never truly recovered. As soon as he acquiesced to his employer's request to move over to allow the pursuing Alonso to triumph in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheim, the die had been set.
From thereon in, the 2008 world championship runner-up was relegated to a meek supporting role to his team-mate's challenge for glory as he slunk quietly into the shadows, and in truth he seemed to lose heart, going on to finish a distant sixth in the final standings, a full 108 points in arrears of Alonso and only eight markers ahead of eighth-placed Robert Kubica, a man who has on occasion been linked with taking his seat.
Light-hearted or not, di Montezemolo's revelation that he was somewhat underwhelmed by Massa in 2010 will do little to boost the confidence of a driver whose sensitivity requires him to feel loved to perform at his best. The Italian made a similar remark about Kimi Raikkonen and the Finn's phantom 'twin' over the second half of 2009.
“Less than seven [out of ten] for Felipe Massa,” he reflected, when asked to rate the Paulista's year during a dinner with Italian journalists. “For some reason, we have a problem with the brothers of our drivers arriving during the season. It happened with [Michael] Schumacher, Raikkonen and now Massa. I think Felipe got a bit tired and fed-up mid-season and went home, sending his brother to drive. He gets a seven-minus, but he has promised to come back next year.”
di Montezemolo conversely awarded Alonso – a man who has become the Scuderia's favourite son as rapidly as he has galvanised everybody in Maranello around him – a nine-and-a-half, musing that 'unfortunately he did not win, but [the score is] from the point-of-view of results, character and relationship with the team', and he rated Ferrari in general with an eight, reasoning: “You do not get full marks when you don't win, but it was an exceptional year for commitment and determination.”
“We were disappointed, there's no point denying it,” he conceded, “but realistically, it was more bitter in 2008, when Felipe crossed the finish line as world champion [at Interlagos]. From 1997 onwards, except in 2005 and 2009, we have either won or lost at the last race. The opponents – Williams, McLaren, Renault, Red Bull – always change; only Ferrari is there.”
As to what he hopes the future of F1 will entail, the 63-year-old added: “[We will] fight for common sense, for races on circuits [not streets] and to have not more than 19 races, preferably 18. And to have three cars; it's better to have a third car with a competitive team than a team that cannot even do GP2. I think it's common sense, and Bernie Ecclestone agrees. Who [would run a third Ferrari]? A small but competitive team.”
Hinting at minor organisational changes within the structure of the team in a bid to avert any repeats of the catastrophic strategic error that arguably cost Alonso the crown in the Abu Dhabi F1 2010 finale last month, di Montezemolo was pressed, finally, on the burning issue of his rumoured impending political switch. His response was blunt.
“Let me do my job,” he stressed. “I'm so happy we have lots and lots to do here at Ferrari.”