Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo has admitted that the Scuderia made the right decision in re-signing Felipe Massa, despite fears that the Brazilian had again lost his mojo during the 2012 F1 season.
As in both previous seasons following his horrific 2009 accident at the Hungaroring, Massa made a sluggish start to 2012, sparking rumours that he would be replaced, and maybe even before the season was out. Sergio Perez's performance in chasing Fernando Alonso home in the Malaysian Grand Prix – allied to the Mexican's position on Ferrari's development programme – immediately put the Sauber driver at the top of the list, but he was joined at various points during the campaign by the likes of Heikki Kovalainen, Paul di Resta and Nico Hulkenberg, while Sebastian Vettel also made his annual appearance in the speculation before Ferrari finally extended Massa's contract by a year in mid-October.
The Brazilian's form took an upswing after he claimed fourth place in the British Grand Prix, and was sustained through to the end of the season, with podiums – his first for almost two years – coming in both Japan and Brazil as he hauled himself up to seventh in the standings, and confirmed Ferrari in second spot in the constructors' table.
“[Massa] improved a great deal in the second half [but], in the first part, it seemed he'd gone on a round the world holiday!” Montezemolo told journalists at Ferrari annual Christmas party, “Joking apart, I think the decision to reconfirm his position was the right one: if we had changed, then one would need to take on someone who would make a difference and I can't say I noticed many drivers around who would be quicker than Felipe.
“Also, we did not want to change the balance and the good atmosphere within the team. [Team principal Stefano] Domenicali and I told ourselves it was best to wait and I think that the facts proved us right. Towards the end, when Felipe was even faster than Fernando a couple of times, the points he scored played a vital part in securing our place in the constructors' championship.”
Even without Massa's contribution at the start of the year, Ferrari had much to celebrate, as Alonso won in Malaysia before further victories in Valencia and Germany propelled him to a 40+ point lead in the championship, despite the F2012 being far from the best car.
“Once again, this season we were contenders,” Montezemolo agreed, “But we must start from this positive point. If we succeed and improve our performance, then we can be winners.
“You can see the glass as half full or half empty, but clearly there is great regret because the outcome went down to the wire. After that first lap in Brazil, maybe things could have turned out differently, because Fernando went on holiday at the start of the summer break with a 40-point lead over his closest challenger and because, when it came to collisions, we were forced to retire, while others kept going as if nothing had happened. However, the biggest regret is that we did not have a car that was quick enough to win the world championship.
“On the glass half full side, we had amazing reliability which allowed us to come second in the constructors' championship despite the fact McLaren was quicker than us and despite the fact that, in the first half of the season, we pretty much only had Alonso's points to count on.
“There were those great starts and pit-stops and the fact Fernando had an extraordinary season, the best since he has been in F1. The Spaniard is a mix of Lauda and Schumacher: like the former, he has the ability to drive every race lap as though it was qualifying, like the latter, he has the intelligence to know when it's time to push and when it's time to look after the car.
“Next year, let's hope we can say it was our best season, given that we want to give him and Felipe a car that's competitive right from the start.”