As we approach the end of the 2009 Formula One season, and Jenson Button crawls his way to the title, I can’t help thinking ahead to next year in what promises to be a classic.
Now, I was going to write a prediction of Massa being world champion next year, but with the recent news that Alonso will be driving for them next year instead of Kimi, it does complicate the situation.
I believe Alonso will come in to the Scuderia looking to dominate Massa from the outset. I also believe Kimi’s likely move to McLaren will revitalise him and this will push Lewis Hamilton to the supreme highs he is more than capable of and start to set him up for a few years of domination. However, all of this doesn’t change my mind.
As the teams arrive in Brazil, there will still be four drivers in it. It’s the teams of old once again battling it out at the top as they have done since they first properly locked horns in the days of James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
For Ferrari, Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa have fought back to be in contention for the world title and have now developed into the best car on the grid.
Over in the silver corner, Lewis Hamilton has lead the championship for the last half of the year but his team mate Kimi Raikkonen has pressured him all year to commence the final battle level on points.
The four of them lock out the front two rows and as the engines roar and the lights go out, there can only be one winner. Massa on pole, he does what he does best, producing another level of performance that people still continue to doubt he has, which the other ‘better’ drivers cannot match. He crosses the line in first, making him Brazil’s first champion since Ayrton Senna.
And there could be no more deserving of a championship, or a better story than Felipe Massa’s fight to the crown. And I’m not talking about a rags to riches story either, or his accident in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix. It is simply a story about a driver who has kept on fighting and more importantly improving.
He did a thing that many Formula One drivers find very hard to do; he listened and took advice from those around them, including a certain seven time world champion. It’s been fascinating seeing him smooth off the rough edges that blighted his early career and take the opportunities that have been offered to him.
However, I write this as if he will definitely do it, and that is obviously by no means certain or likely given his accident and how it may effect his driving.
More importantly, Massa may have matched Kimi Raikkonen while they’ve been team mates, but Alonso is a different proposition altogether.
Whereas Kimi is still probably over a lap the quickest driver out there, he never wanted to involve himself in the team too much, perhaps leading to his downfall. He was meant to dominate Massa but found himself being beaten half the time by a driver who everyone predicted would be left behind.
Alonso will be coming into Ferrari looking to lead, he’s already rumoured to be asking the team to bring in former engineers he has worked with before. Building the team around him with his own group of people will already get Massa thinking.
But he just has to keep looking forward, keep building his own side. The accident he suffered can only make him a better driver, sometimes a time of reflection can improve a person and make him realise what he can be doing better.
Although not half as bad an accident, Michael Schumacher’s absence for half the year in 1999 due to his leg breaking accident refreshed him, and as the history books tell us, controlled the next five years.
Massa isn’t the most naturally talented driver in Formula One right now, (that I believe falls to Lewis Hamilton) but he works hard, puts in the effort and time with the team and it continues to pay off.
In a car that shouldn’t have been anywhere near winning earlier this year, and in conditions he wasn’t supposed to be good in, Massa was well and truly in contention for the win in China. His drivers this year were mature, consistent and fast and showed the previous years weren’t just the car letting him drive near the front.
Remember they chose him over their world champion Kimi, and that just goes to show that perhaps Alonso may have something to fear as he arrives too. Massa has been in the Ferrari family for nearly 10 years now and that is something Alonso will have trouble getting in between.
It’s now well documented the relationship Alonso had at Renault with his team mates and what occurred at McLaren with Lewis Hamilton. Renault gave him everything they wanted and he was comfortable.
In 2007 he was rattled and couldn’t understand why he didn’t have the full support of the McLaren team being a two time world champion.
This means it is important for Massa to strike early at Alonso and establish himself. He already has the heart of the team, even more so after his accident, and this could be essential if 2010 is to be a winning year.
And I see no reason why he can’t take the fight to the Spaniard. He occasionally matched Michael Schumacher in 2006, and he’s a much better driver now than he was then.
So if Massa can beat Alonso (and it’s a big ask) that just leaves one question: Can he also beat the McLaren super team of Hamilton and Kimi? I say, why not? It would make an incredible story.