Felipe Massa will stay at Ferrari to partner Fernando Alonso next season, but only because he provides the ideal stop-gap solution to bridge the year that the Scuderia will have to wait before landing its main target, Sebastian Vettel, for 2014.

According to the BBC, Vettel's much vaunted wooing by the mandarins at Maranello has finally paid off, with the German having apparently put his mark on a contract to join Ferrari once his current Red Bull Racing contract expires at the end of next season. The report, however, claims that the deal contains performance-related clauses that could allow the reigning world champion - and 2012 title favourite - to back out if the Scuderia fails to live up to expectation.

Vettel has been linked to a potential Ferrari move for a couple of seasons, and had made no secret of his interest in driving for the biggest name in F1, but any notion of a deal has been repeatedly played down by both the German and Red Bull team boss Christian Horner. The Briton's Ferrari counterpart, Stefano Domenicali, has been more of a tease, often claiming that he'd love to be able to pair Vettel with Alonso, and it appears that Spaniard has given his blessing to such a partnership, despite having previously vetoed the opportunity to sign another leading light, Lewis Hamilton, for 2013.

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Massa's recent form, including a podium finish behind Vettel in Japan, has raised the possibility of him remaining at Maranello for another year, despite his season starting with increasingly strengthening rumours that he would be fired following a string of poor results. Keeping him on board, however, would make the transition to Vettel much easier than hiring a 'young gun' for twelve months, despite the likes of McLaren-bound Sergio Perez and Force India duo Nico Hulkenberg and Paul di Resta all being linked to the Brazilian's seat.

Domenicali hinted heavily that Massa would be retained for 2013 after the 2008 championship runner-up finished a strong fourth behind Alonso and the two Red Bull drivers in Korea on Sunday.

Vettel's deal, should it be confirmed, would give the 2013 silly season a head-start, with one of the sport's plum seats known to be up for grabs much earlier than usual. Mark Webber currently partners the German at Milton Keynes, but is operating on a year-by-year contract, while neither Daniel Ricciardo or Jean-Eric Vergne have yet shown enough potential to be promoted into what could be a car bearing the #1. However, other leading candidates, such as Jenson Button, Alonso and Hamilton will all be tied into their current deals through 2014.....