Day Nine: Ferrari

On the ninth day of Christmas, Ben Sweeney gave to me… Ferrari

Drivers: Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa
Championship position:
3rd
Best finish:
1st (Alonso, China and Spain)

Ferrari were one of four teams retaining their 2012 line-up, (the others being Lotus, Red Bull and Toro Rosso). Indeed it was also with mixed approval that Ferrari kept their line up as many felt that Felipe Massa’s time at the team was up. However, a strong second half to the 2012 season kept the Brazilian at the team, knowing that he would have to impress in 2013 if he was to be with the Scuderia in 2014.

Massa was off to a good start in the inter-team battle by out-qualifying his team-mate at the season-opening Australian Grand Prix. Massa lined up fourth ahead of Alonso in fifth but the duo progressed at the start, moving to second and third respectively. Despite their earlier strong performance which kept them tail-gating race-leader Sebastian Vettel, prolonging his second pit-stop saw Massa slip down the order to his eventual finishing position of fourth, while Alonso passed Vettel for the lead but was then himself passed by Kimi Raikkonen, eventually ending the race in second.

While Alonso took the race win in Malaysia in 2012, 2013 saw no such fortune for the Spaniard who made contact with the rear of Vettel’s Red Bull and dropped from the race on Lap 2 when he defied calls from his team to box to replace his damaged front wing, which was now trailing the ground and sending a spectacular shower of sparks back at the Red Bull of Mark Webber. Soon after passing the pitlane entrance, the front wing buckled and fell under his car, disabling control of the Ferrari and sending Alonso into the gravel. In the other Ferrari, Massa dropped from a starting position of second, down to fifth by the end of the race.

As if to make up for his Sepang disappointment, Alonso was the man to beat on race day in Shanghai, stealing the lead from pole-man Lewis Hamilton and re-taking the lead from Sebastian Vettel following a round of pit-stops, he went on to take the win. Massa, who had started fifth, dropped one place to sixth. To say Felipe dropped down the order in Bahrain would be an understatement. However, his fall from sixth to fifteenth was solely down to awfully bad luck and two Pirelli tyre failures. Alonso also dropped down the order mid-race when he started third and finished in an unimpressive eighth.

Alonso, once again, seemed determined to make up for the poor race in Bahrain with a fantastic race in Catalunya. Having been denied a home victory in 2012 by Williams’ Pastor Maldonado, he was doubly motivated to take the top spot at the Barcelona circuit, and that he did. Starting fifth, Alonso became the lowest-starting winner at Catalunya while Massa also moved up the order to finish third and claim his first podium since the Japanese Grand Prix last year.

However, Massa’s return to the podium would not be repeated in Monaco – far from it in fact. A huge shunt at the first corner for the Brazilian during the third practice session on Saturday morning meant he missed the Qualifying session while the team continued repairs on his car. Due to various penalties and a non-Qualifying Jules Bianchi, Massa eventually started 21st. However, on lap 28 he crashed again in a mirror image to his FP3 shunt – hitting the Armco barrier in the run up to turn 1 and then sliding sideways into the TecPro barrier. This crash caused the first Safety Car of the season to slow the grid while the Medical Car treated Massa track-side. Alonso finished seventh and post-race complained to Race Stewards about Sergio Perez’s crazy driving which forced him off-track at the Nouvelle Chicane.

Massa crashed again in Canada, sliding into the barriers at turn 3 during Q2 which saw him start 16th. Alonso started sixth. Both drivers had impressive races to progress to second for Alonso and eighth for Massa. It was another disastrous weekend for Massa in Silverstone who, for the third consecutive weekend, crashed the Ferrari. His fortune was no more improved om race-day suffering yet another Pirelli delamination but still made it to sixth in the race. Alonso stole the last podium place from Kimi Raikkonen in the closing stages of the race.

Germany was the fourth consecutive weekend of trouble for Massa who spun out of the race in a bizarre incident during the opening laps. Alonso jumped from a mediocre ninth in Qualifying to fourth before the end of the race. Finally, in Hungary, Alonso started and finished fifth while Massa dropped from seventh to eighth. Mid-race, Felipe was overtaken by Lotus’ Romain Grosjean at turn 4 which earned the Frenchman a drive-through penalty for overtaking off-track limits. Massa post-race slammed the stewards decision, defending Grosjean and calling the penalty ‘ridiculous’.

Coming back from the summer break, Alonso took second on the podium while Massa narrowly avoided being t-boned by a brakes-less Kimi Raikkonen en route to finishing seventh. At the team’s home race, Massa out-qualified Alonso and gave the tifosi something to cheer about when a rapid start saw him challenging for the lead into the first corner. Meanwhile, Alonso was battling Red Bull’s Mark Webber and pulled off the move of the season when he took the Aussie on the outside of the Variante della Roggia chicane. He then passed Massa and finished second, while Massa finished behind Webber in fourth.

On the Tuesday after the race, Massa announced that he was to leave the Scuderia after eight years. Raikkonen was announced as his replacement on the Wednesday. Alonso and Massa had pretty straight forward races in Singapore, the former finishing second with the latter crossing the line sixth. After the race, however, Alonso was called to the stewards for stopping to give Mark Webber a lift back to Parc Ferme, as the Aussie’s car had broken down in the final laps. The move was deemed to be illegal – Alonso stopping on track and Webber re-joining the track without stewards permission – and both were handed a reprimand.

Alonso finished sixth while battling Hamilton in Korea, while Massa dropped three places from qualifying and ended the race in ninth. Massa once again out-qualified his team-mate in Japan and once again dropped behind him in the race: Massa started fifth and finished tenth while Alonso started eighth and finished fourth. Alonso’s points finish set the record for most points ever recorded. He failed to score any points, however, at the next race in India – narrowly missing out on tenth place when stuck behind Daniel Ricciardo. Massa, now fighting for his future in F1, finished fifth to bring home some points for his team.

In the later stages of the Abu Dhabi, Alonso was battling Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne for position out of the pitlane. Vergne took the racing line while Alonso went for a rapidly closing gap, forcing Alonso over the track bordering kerbs. The double World Champion eventually took the place, but in doing so pulled a huge 25Gs which caused him to be hospitalised for precautionary tests post-race. Massa was also forced to go off-track to avoid colliding with the slowing Vergne. Alonso eventually finished fifth while Massa took eighth.

In Austin, Massa qualified far down the grid in fifteenth but he started thirteenth due to various penalties handed out to drivers ahead of him. His race wasn’t a particularly memorable performance and he finished twelfth. Alonso, who had started sixth, moved up one place to fifth in an otherwise uneventful race for the Scuderia. Post-race it was announced that Massa would be bringing his experienced head to Williams in 2014.

And so to the final race of the season. Massa qualified ninth at his last home-race in the Ferrari red while Alonso took third. There were no heroic charges through the field to the podium for Massa as he finished seventh in his final race for Ferrari, while Alonso finished third – admitting that he would have moved aside for his team-mate had he made it to fourth.

In some cases through bad luck and in other cases through poor driving, Massa has suffered a pretty poor first half to the season. He failed to keep his seat at Ferrari in the second half of the season, but as an improved driver this was probably more to the availability of Kimi Raikkonen, rather than a burning desire to be rid of Massa. Meanwhile, Alonso must be feeling frustrated at the fourth continuous season where Ferrari have failed to provide him with a car that could give him a good shot at winning the Championship. He’ll face some strong opposition in the form of a Finn next season, and will be looking for a strong car. Another poor season by Championship standards, and I imagine that Alonso will be looking for a seat elsewhere.

Image courtesy Ferrari F1 Team.

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