Felipe Massa is the luckiest driver in the Formula One paddock at the moment.
Quite aside from the miraculous survival and recovery after taking a high speed spring to the head and crashing in Budapest in 2009—an incident that almost claimed his life—Massa now seems to have escaped with his racing life.
In 2011, Massa failed to finish above fifth and ended the year securing less than half of the points tally of Alonso. The trend looked set to continue as he secured points in only three of the first 10 races of the 2012 season.
It became obvious from very early in the 2012 season that Massa was testing the patience of Ferrari management. In March, after two dismal races, Massa was recalled to Maranello instead of heading home for a break.
Ferrari painted the recall as an opportunity for Massa to work with the engineers to improve the car, but the undertone was definitely one of a team unhappy with their driver. Team boss Stefano Domenicali explained it to ESPN F1:
Felipe has changed his plans and, instead of heading home to see his family in Brazil, he will be in Maranello tomorrow to work alongside the engineers to calmly analyse everything that happened in these past two races, trying to identify why he was not able to deliver what he is capable of. That's the right spirit and we are here, ready to help him.
Elsewhere, the media was rife with reports that Massa’s replacement was imminent with Jarno Trulli, Sergio Perez and Adrian Sutil being offered up as possible replacements. YallaF1.com reported polls being held in influential Italian media circles that pointed to anyone but Massa.
Since the dismal performance at the European Grand Prix, however, there has been a noticeable improvement in performance, as Massa has only failed to secure points once in the following eight races.
Remarkably, Massa secured an unlikely podium finish in Japan for the first time in 33 races and has backed that up with a solid fourth place in Korea.
The turnaround has convinced Ferrari to renew Massa for a further 12-month period partly, one suspects, because of the improvement in performance and partly because all of the good drivers had secured their drives for 2013 already.
The team displayed its obvious excitement with the following glowing statement on the Ferrari website:
Scuderia Ferrari announces that it has renewed its contract with the driver Felipe Massa to the end of the 2013 race season. The Scuderia’s driver line-up for next year is therefore made up of Fernando Alonso and the aforementioned Felipe Massa.
By giving Massa a one-year term, Ferrari have not only put him on notice that his days are numbered, but they have also added fuel to the persistent rumours that Sebastian Vettel is slated to join the Maranello outfit for the 2014 season.
Ferrari CEO Luca di Montezemolo has tried to quash the rumours with yet another statement, as reported on ESPNF1.com:
[I would] rather two drivers who race for Ferrari and not for themselves. I don't want problems and rivalries, which we didn't have between [Michael] Schumacher and [Eddie] Irvine, between Schumacher and [Rubens] Barrichello, between Alonso and Massa or Massa and Schumi or Massa and [Kimi] Raikkonen.
He’s certainly got his wish with Massa, but the Vettel rumours just won't go away. BBC Sport reports:
Ferrari will retain Felipe Massa next season in what is planned to be a stop-gap deal before the arrival of Sebastian Vettel.
As appealing as the dream-team combination of Alonso and Vettel is, Alonso actually has a say is who his teammate is and is reported to have vetoed a Lewis Hamilton move to Ferrari in the same BBC article.
Alonso has shown a preference to be a clear No. 1 driver in whichever team he's with, it's hard to see Vettel being relegated to No. 2.