Sebastian Vettel says he is surprised to have seen Felipe Massa struggle up against Fernando Alonso in recent seasons as talk continues about the future of the Brazilian.

Massa is out of contract at the end of the year and has yet to sign a new deal, although his performance in securing a podium finish in Suzuka could go some way towards helping him to earn another season with the Maranello-based team.

Second in Japan was only the sixth time Massa has finished on the podium in the last three years and his first top three finish since Korea 2010, but Vettel said he didn't understand why the Brazilian came in for such a hard time from his critics - arguing that he had the pace to match Alonso on track.

"I really like Felipe as a person and respect him a lot as a driver," he was quoted as telling the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. "Many people forget how much he has won and that he lost a title by one point to Lewis. Had he been champion, people would talk very differently about him. I don't understand why he has suffered so much in recent years.

"With all due respect to Fernando, I think Felipe can be as fast or sometimes even faster than him. But then I don't always understand why the difference between them is so great. In the past Felipe has competed with very good drivers like Michael and Kimi and has always been fast, so I don't understand. But I'm not a Ferrari driver and so I don't know how things are there.

"It's just a shame that people forget things so quickly. In 2008 he was seen as one of the best and now he's not. If his engine had not blown up in Hungary he would be a champion. I know I keep saying 'if', but that's the way it is."


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