Halfway through 2010 Ferrari threw its weight behind new driver Fernando Alonso in his pursuit of the championship.
The notorious switch of positions in the German Grand Prix last year eventually ended an eight-year period in which the FIA tried to prevent the use of team orders.
It began after Rubens Barrichello handed victory in the 2002 Austrian Grand Prix to Michael Schumacher, and ended when the rule forbidding team orders was cut from the 2011 regulations.
Much ink has already been spilled on the rights and wrongs of it – what’s of interest here is what it means for Ferrari in their post-Schumacher era.
Alonso is the team’s favoured son and it’s equally clear he operates at his highest level when he doesn’t feel under threat from his team mate. This raises obvious questions over Massa’s role in the team.
If Ferrari were content to use team orders halfway through the 2010 season when they were illegal, how much earlier will they be prepared to use them this year now they’re legal again?
It’s in Felipe Massa’s hands to keep himself from being relegated to Barrichello status. To do it, he needs to keep Alonso in sight. But he often struggled to do that last year.
I’ve made the error of writing Felipe Massa off once before and I’m not going to make that mistake twice. But he has a long way to come if he’s going to recover from the pummelling Alonso dished out to him last year.
Massa repeatedly said throughout 2010 was that he couldn’t get the tyres to work. He wasn’t the only driver who struggled with the narrower front tyres on the Bridgestones – Schumacher had the same problem.
Ferrari showed their faith in Massa by extending his contract to the end of next season. But that’s no guarantee they’ll keep in him in the car if he fails to perform this year – after all, Kimi R?â?ñikk?â?Ânen had a contract for 2010.
But that brings us back to where we started. If Ferrari really are now Team Alonso, then a Massa who’s not quite quick enough to beat his team mate, but isn’t going to rock the boat, could suit them quite nicely.
The 2011 season should tell us a lot about the new balance of power at Ferrari.
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Image ?é?® Ferrari spa/Ercole Colombo