F1 » 17 September 2012
Briatore backs Massa, but is Kovalainen close to deal?
Heikki Kovalainen may have moved to the head of the queue to replace Felipe Massa at Ferrari next season.
The situation surrounding Felipe Massa's future as a Ferrari - and possibly an F1 - driver remains clouded as the Scuderia continues to wait before confirming its decision over next year's line-up.
The majority of the F1 paddock believes that the Brazilian will be on his way out of Maranello following his home grand prix in November - something that could precipitate his retirement from the top flight after appearing unwilling to accept another driver further down the grid - although the identity of his replacement continues to cause much head-scratching.
With leading contenders Mark Webber, Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton unlikely to wind up in red next season, Sergio Perez remains the favourite of many to shift over from Sauber, despite Ferrari management claiming that the Mexican is 'too young', but appears to be part of a growing candidate list. Force India duo Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg both remain potential considerations, as, more fancifully, does Michael Schumacher should he decide to leave Mercedes in search of a swansong with the team that gave him five world titles, but recent reports suggest that Caterham's Heikki Kovalainen could have moved to the head of the queue.
According to stories emanating from his native Finland, Kovalainen's management has been invited to talks at Maranello with a view to ending the former McLaren driver's spell at the back of the grid with a return to a race-winning operation. The 30-year old has a single victory under his belt - ironically coming as Massa's Ferrari ground to a halt in the 2008 Hungarian GP - but has turned in some eye-opening performances in the past 18 months that have also seen him being linked to both Lotus and McLaren should openings arise next season.
While the questions remain over a likely successor to Massa, Kovalainen's former team boss at Renault has a simple consideration for Ferrari.
Flavio Briatore, who was sceptical of the Finn's ability during his brief stint as team-mate to Fernando Alonso at Enstone, believes that the Scuderia would be better served retaining Massa for 2013, and not entertaining thoughts of trying to pair the Spaniard with anyone else - even if Sebastian Vettel becomes available.
"I would keep Massa for another year," Briatore, who retains an interest in Alonso's career, told Italy's Corriere dello Sport newspaper, "He is a good driver, but he should never compare his times with those of Alonso.
"I would never put Vettel and Alonso together so long as there is only one title for one driver. We have seen it so many times in F1: Prost-Senna, Mansell-Prost, Alonso-Hamilton - they were experiments that divided the team and cost the drivers as well. Put it this way, if I had a slow driver, I would put someone beside him who is even slower...."
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