The fast-approaching F1 2011 World Championship is the 'last chance' for Felipe Massa and Mark Webber to prove that they can consistently get the better of their respective Ferrari and Red Bull Racing team-mates Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel, reckons BBC F1
pit-lane reporter Ted Kravitz, forecasting 'a fascinating season' in-store.
It is difficult to know whose position is the more precarious. In Massa's case, whilst the Brazilian is seemingly happy to stay at Ferrari, it is unclear for how much longer the team will be willing to keep him; Red Bull, conversely, knows that in Webber it has one of the best drivers on the grid and the perfect foil to Vettel, but in the wake of the pair's very public fall-out last year, the Australian's long-term future at the Milton Keynes-based squad appears almost untenable.
Massa's F1 2010 campaign was marked by two notable flashpoints – Shanghai and Hockenheim. In China, the 29-year-old was elbowed brusquely out of the way by a charging Alonso upon entering the pit-lane, sending him plummeting down the order; in Germany, he dutifully moved aside to allow the Spaniard to take a wholly undeserved victory upon the controversial and covert instruction of his engineer Rob Smedley, in what swiftly snowballed into the infamous team orders row.
This year, the general paddock consensus is that Massa needs to demonstrate that he is more than merely Alonso's lapdog and subservient rear-gunner and rediscover the inner steel that saw him push Lewis Hamilton all the way to the 2008 crown, or else Ferrari is likely to ditch him for somebody else.
Webber, meanwhile, made no attempt to hide his frustrations and disappointments with the second-class treatment he felt he was receiving at RBR last season – and in the light of events in Istanbul and at Silverstone, few could honestly blame him. Rarely one to bite his lip in the interests of diplomacy and keeping the peace, the Aussie is a doughty fighter – but Kravitz reckons he will need to draw upon all of that inner strength to do what he threatened to do for much of 2010, and pip Vettel to the ultimate laurels.
“There are a lot of different rivalries and fights up-and-down the pit-lane,” he mused, speaking during a special pre-season BBC F1
'Meet the Team' session at Television Centre. “At Ferrari, I think this is Massa's last chance to show that he can consistently challenge Alonso on pace, on racecraft, on mechanical sympathy and on looking after every part of the car.
“For Vettel, it's very difficult, as history has shown, to win back-to-back championships, but Red Bull will be there-or-thereabouts. For Webber, like Massa, it's his last opportunity to actually show that he can beat Sebastian consistently over a season. It's his last year on his Red Bull contract and he's shown that he can certainly beat Vettel, but can he do it over the balance of a season..?”
The Englishman also cast a glance at fellow front-runners McLaren-Mercedes and Mercedes Grand Prix. The former, he suggests, could just have a secret weapon up its sleeve, whilst the latter grossly underperformed last year and needs to significantly up the ante in F1 2011 if Michael Schumacher is to successfully accomplish his objective of adding to his record-breaking tally of triumphs in the top flight – even if an eighth world championship trophy, Kravitz fears, might be a step too far.
“I think at McLaren it's going to be very interesting,” he reflected. “They have the most experience with KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery Systems) out of any of the top teams – their KERS system worked a bit better than Ferrari's the last time they all used it, and Lewis Hamilton has the most experience of the KERS system out of the top six drivers.