It has been a busy few days for Scuderia Ferrari. On the back of the Italian Grand Prix, Luca di Montezemolo was in Frankfurt to officially unveil the new 458 Speciale – more on that later. But perhaps the biggest news to come from Ferrari is the announcement that Felipe Massa will be leaving the team at the end of this season.
Massa joined Scuderia Ferrari with big expectations in 2006. After missing the Driver’s Championship by a handful of points in 2008, Massa suffered severe injuries at the Hungaroring in 2009. The team kept his seat open until he recovered, but Massa has struggled to be the same driver since. Ferrari’s hiring of Fernando Alonso didn’t help matters and for the last few seasons, Massa’s role has been that of a defined Number 2 in Alonso’s quest for another Driver’s Championship.
The teammate relationship between Massa and Alonso is one of the strongest in the Formula 1 paddock and the news of his departure will clearly affect Alonso, who has been one of Massa’s biggest supporters.
Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix was billed as a defining moment for Massa’s career at Ferrari, but many think (myself included) the team had already made their decision long before the weekend started. Alonso has had his own problems with the team this summer. After becoming increasingly candid with his comments in the media, di Montezemolo publicly lambasted the driver for criticizing the their efforts. Tension was high in the Ferrari paddock at Monza and was emphasized by an awkward hug between the President and his Number 1 in front of the media.
With Massa out of the picture in 2014, Kimi Raikkonen will take over. To call the circumstances ironic would be an understatement, considering Ferrari paid Raikkonen €20 million not to drive for them in 2010.
The driver shake up will set in motion, a very tumultuous season at Scuderia Ferrari. While it’s known that Alonso and Raikkonen are friends, the Spaniard has historically responded negatively to other top flight teammates. It’s bold move by Ferrari, but one where they’re looking out for themselves. After the recent souring of their relationship with Alonso, they can’t be sure he’ll stay for the remainder of his career. Bringing Raikkonen back on board will give them a much needed competitive advantage in the Constructor’s Championship and serve as a safety net, should Alonso seek another team. It’s an aggressive strategy that just may pay off.