Since coming agonisingly close to winning the World Championship in 2008, only to be gazumped by Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa’s career has taken a turn for the worse.
He briefly became Ferrari’s lead driver after his impressive season in 2008; whilst Kimi Raikkonen failed to show the kind of ambition that had won him the 2007 World Championship.
During qualifying at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2009, Massa came very close to becoming the first man to die at the wheel of a Formula One car since the death of Ayrton Senna in 1994.
A metal suspension spring had come loose from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn GP car; it struck him just above his left eye. His initial condition was thought to be life-threatening; many thought that he would be unlikely to return to Formula One in a racing capacity.
However, showing great personal strength, Massa returned to the wheel of a Formula One car at the start of the 2010 season; his new teammate was two-time Champion Fernando Alonso.
Inevitably, Massa was always going to play second fiddle to a driver of Alonso’s immense talent.
The Spaniard had signed to be number one and that was what he was from the outset. This was made clear at the German Grand Prix in 2010 when Rob Smedley ordered Massa to move over to allow his teammate through; albeit it was cryptically phrased, as team orders were banned at the time.
From that point on, Massa never really seriously challenged Alonso again. When he realised that his hopes of challenging the Spaniard on a level playing field were severely limited, he must have lost a significant amount of confidence.
Consequently, after less than impressive seasons in 2011 and 2012, Ferrari have moved to re-sign Kimi Raikkonen from Lotus; ending the Brazilian’s seven year association with Ferrari.
Massa’s career opportunities now seem limited.
Whilst he will no doubt get a seat at another team, it seems unlikely that he will ever again be in a position to challenge for the World Championship. There are rumours that he may trade places with Raikkonen and move to Lotus.
Whilst Lotus have been impressive this year, they were not able to convince Raikkonen that his best hopes of further success were to remain with them. They have also lost their highly rated technical director James Allison, he has moved to Ferrari.
With places at the other top teams already taken, Massa may consider a move away from F1 if he doesn't move to Lotus.
Whatever happens, the Brazilian will look back at his 2008 title challenge with regret because he surely knows that he will not get that kind of chance again in Formula One.
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