Now is not a good time to be out of a drive. The silly season, while no longer in its summer break frenzy, is still a hot topic, and Felipe Massa has just found himself on the wrong side of luck.
Massa has made it abundantly clear that he wants to race in Formula One next season. For what team he will be racing, however, is yet to be decided. What we do know is that he has set himself some ambitious targets for 2014, targets that, while attainable to Massa, are never going to happen.
With his eyes set on either Lotus or Mclaren for next season, it seems a good time to discuss why those two will never take him on, and what teams could be an option.
Lotus and Mclaren are unrealistic targets for Massa. It is admirable that the Brazilian remains optimistic for the future, despite being dumped by Ferrari almost certainly against his will, but with optimism in Formula One often precedes fantasy.
In Lotus, you have a relatively young team on an upward trajectory. They are certainly considered a top team, but their relative lack of finances compared to Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes and Mclaren means that championships are realistically out of the question for now. As we have seen this year and last, the Lotus is in the game early on in the season, but by a certain point, the team’s finances finally catch up to them and the competitiveness plateaus. That is not to say this will be the case every year, but at least this season (and perhaps next), championship glory will have to wait.
With this in mind, we have to consider their driver situation. Romain Grosjean is as good as confirmed for next season. While he is Mr. Inconsistent, his speed is undeniable and irresistible. That is why he will be at Lotus next season. Helping cement the Frenchman’s place at the team is the need for continuity in 2014. With such drastic regulation changes, it is vital that all the teams have a certain amount of information to compare with. Starting 2014 with two new drivers will only serve to make life more difficult than it already will be.
Lotus does have an open seat, though. With Kimi Raikkonen gone, Lotus has the opportunity to carefully pick the best driver out there not already confirmed at another team. One man who immediately comes to mind is Nico Hulkenberg. After his storming drive in Italy, all eyes were on the German to see if any top team would snatch him up. Indeed, this has been something the world of Formula One has been waiting for, as Hulkenberg is regarded as a champion-in-waiting. His drive in Italy only confirms that.
It is looking increasingly likely that Hulkenberg will indeed get the nod from Lotus. That means they have two young-ish drivers they can focus on for the years to come. That is also why Felipe won’t be wearing black and gold next year. Lotus’ upward trajectory is the very reason the team needs long-terms prospects. For a team like Lotus who are experiencing increasing competitiveness, continuity through the years is vital. With Massa already in his 30’s, the only trajectory he’ll be experiencing from now on will be downwards.
Lotus cannot gamble on two potentially mediocre years with Massa when they can be almost guaranteed five or more brilliant years from Grosjean and, in particular, Hulkenberg.
The same goes for Mclaren. Jenson Button will be driving for the team next season and, unlike Massa, is still at the top of his game despite being older than Massa. The 2009 world champ is still gunning for title No. 2, and that can happen in the next few years.
Sergio Perez also has a contract for next season. The thinking on Massa’s part, most likely, is that Perez is a throwaway driver. He may not realize that the millions of dollars he brings to the team in sponsorship is vital to the team’s championship hopes next season. Not even Mclaren is immune to the economic hardships these days.
Massa will be missed from Ferrari. If he wants to stay in Formula One next season, there will be plenty of teams that would happily take him on. Perhaps Sauber could do away with Esteban Gutierrez next season, assuming Hulkenberg isn’t there next season. They could use the Brazilian’s experience alongside 18-year-old Sergey Sirotkin next season.
In the meantime, let’s enjoy Massa’s last races for the Scuderia. He deserves our praise.