Formula 1: A Look at Five Possible Replacements for Felipe Massa

Neil James@NeilosJamesFeatured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2012

Formula 1: A Look at Five Possible Replacements for Felipe Massa

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    With Felipe Massa's future at Ferrari beyond 2012 in doubt, Ferrari boss Luca di Montezemolo named five drivers who he might consider as replacements.

    "Jenson Button was just excellent.  Mark Webber is a good second driver, and Nico Rosberg has done well with a car that has not been competitive," Montezemolo said.

    "It is also good to develop drivers within yourself, so while Sergio Perez is a Sauber driver, in fact he has developed in Ferrari's academy.  And Jules Bianchi could develop further if he can test."

    An interesting variety of names, and a somewhat telling revelation in his praise for Mark Webber.  He doesn't want someone to challenge Fernando Alonso for the top spot in the team—he wants a number two.

    This is not especially shocking, given Ferrari's track record, but it at least explains why he omitted Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

    Let's have a look at Montezemolo's Five, and see how they might fit into the Ferrari garage.

Jenson Button

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    This is the most surprising name on the list. 

    Jenson Button is in the middle of a contract with McLaren that runs until at least 2014—the cost of buying out that deal would be astronomical.

    And, while he isn't in the same bracket as Alonso, he could still cause an upset if the car was tuned in to his driving style—as Lewis Hamilton discovered last year.

    If the Ferrari was similar to the 2011 car—which had difficultly getting heat into the tyres—Alonso would be fine.  Jenson's smoother style would not suit such characteristics.  But if it was tough on the tyres, the gap would be much closer.

    Probably too close.

    Alonso was not happy at McLaren in 2007 when he was equaled by Lewis Hamilton.  He wouldn't let the team bring in a driver who might take points off him in key races, and Button would certainly not sign up to be a dutiful number two.

    This one will not happen.

Mark Webber

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    Mark Webber's contract is up at the end of the 2012 season, and he's currently close to the "correct" level relative to his teammate to be of interest to Ferrari.

    He isn't going to be close to Alonso on the track very often, but he does have the pace to get in the way of—and take points away from—potential title rivals. 

    The Australian is also a proven competitor. He's been around long enough for you to know exactly what you're going to get from him.

    Webber would be a very shrewd pick, but Red Bull's devotion to Sebastian Vettel suggests they have a similar philosophy to that of Ferrari—they like their cars to stay a comfortable distance apart.

    So, they may well want to keep Webber.

Nico Rosberg

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    Nico Rosberg has been in F1 since 2006, making his debut for Williams in the Bahrain Grand Prix and set the fastest lap in his first ever race. He did this in a fairly awful car, which managed no better result than 6th all season

    He's scored five podiums, despite never having a car better than fourth-fastest, and is one of the few non-champions on the grid to be widely considered as having the potential to take a world title.

    Exactly how good is he? 

    It's one of F1's great questions.  No one's really sure, as he's never had a car capable of fighting the generally-accepted best drivers. 

    And though he's mostly outpaced Michael Schumacher at Mercedes, the seven-time champion is considerably past his best. Rosberg has never had a top-drawer teammate either.

    So, if Montezemolo wants a pliable number two for Alonso, Rosberg would be a dangerous choice. It's not inconceivable that he could be very close to the Spaniard's level.

    As great as this pairing would be for the fans, it's unlikely to become a reality.

Sergio Perez

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    Sergio Perez had already signed to drive for Sauber in F1 when he was snapped up by the Ferrari Driver Academy.

    The academy was set up to groom young, talented drivers.  Ferrari allows them to race elsewhere but signs them to long-term contracts, just in case one of them turns out to be the next big thing.

    Perez wasn't exceptional in 2011, but he had a more-than-acceptable rookie season.  His performances in 2012 should provide a better indicator of where his future lies.

    If he does well, Perez could become the first Mexican to drive for Ferrari since Pedro Rodriguez in 1969.

    He's definitely one to watch.

Jules Bianchi

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    Who the last driver to make his Formula One debut in a Ferrari?

    Arturo Merzario, who drove a 312B2 to 6th place in 1972 British Grand Prix. 

    So Jules Bianchi would be breaking the habit of 40 years if he got the seat alongside Alonso in 2013.

    Montezemolo made a point of saying that Bianchi needs to test in order to develop. And, with the distinct lack of testing in F1 these days that's not going to happen.

    It's more likely Bianchi will be loaned out to a lesser team in 2013.

    He's aiming for a Friday practice role for 2012, and whether or not he gets that may determine his medium-term future.

    But 2013 will be too soon for him to drive a Ferrari.

Other Names?

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    I was a little disappointed that my own favourite to replace Massa, Paul di Resta, wasn't mentioned. 

    Nor was Adrian Sutil, once moderately tipped for the role, who is now rapidly turning into F1's forgotten man.

    Or Robert Kubica, tipped for a Ferrari seat even longer ago than Sutil, but now off the radar until his fitness is proven. 

    It's good to see names such as Rosberg and Perez mentioned, though.  A new name getting a break at one of the top teams is a rare thing indeed, even if they would be expected to play rear-gunner to Alonso.

    But there's always the possibility, of course, that Massa could end up surprising a lot of people and keeping his seat after all.

    We shall see.


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