Felipe Massa's return to form causing Ferrari a problem - he may be too competitive!
After Massa out-qualified Fernando Alonso for the third race in a row and refused to yield during the race, Sky Sports F1's Mark Hughes ponders if the resurgent Brazilian is now too good to be number two.
By Mark Hughes
Last Updated: 21/03/13 7:09am
Amid Alonso's relief that he has indeed got a competitive Ferrari with which to build a realistic world title campaign will be a concern about having needed to actually compete with his team mate in Melbourne - and that's not something Alonso ever likes having to do. Knowing he needs to line up all his ducks to finally get that Ferrari title, fighting an in-team challenge is not part of the plan.
The Brazilian, who at Melbourne last year qualified 0.8s slower, out-qualified his team leader for the third successive race on Sunday. It was by a scant few thousandths of a second and Alonso missed out on crossing the line for an extra lap on the drying track, so thereby Massa had a quicker track when he set his time. But the fact that such detail now separates them suggests Massa is absolutely back to something like his best - as was suggested from Japan onwards last year.
From Alonso's perspective this has one very important upside: it means Massa is in a position to take points from Fernando's title rivals. But the downside is that he is now quick enough to interfere with Alonso's races - as happened on Sunday. When Alonso refers to the start of the race by saying: "I actually got a much better start than Felipe or Hamilton and could have gone through the middle of them but then had to back off as they moved towards each other," he was describing the second inconvenience Massa had caused him, (the other being demoting him a place on the grid).
On the second lap Alonso got a run going down to turn three, getting fully alongside. At this point Felipe had the perfect opportunity of being the perfect number two and yielding. But he chose not to. He is enjoying his new-found competitiveness and was clearly intent on running his own race, even if that meant dicing with his team mate. This is totally normal of course - in other teams. It's far from normal in this one.
In Alonso's second race with Ferrari, at Melbourne three years ago, he staged a great recovery drive after spinning on the opening lap. But that recovery stalled as he reached the tail of Massa. Felipe stayed ahead to the end to finish third. Alonso was adamant that without Massa's interference he could have won the race. A big showdown meeting subsequently took place at Maranello between Alonso and the team about what should happen if such a situation were to arise again and the team agreed that Alonso, as its number one driver, should get priority. Infamously, the situation did arise again - at Hockenheim. In the intervening time no-one had sat Felipe down and explained what the new arrangement was: he only got that news with the 'Fernando is faster than you' radio message.
On Sunday at Melbourne Alonso took matters into his own hands once he realised Massa was not going to yield. He deviated from agreed team strategy on the timing of the second stop - announced with the minimum of warning (just enough for the team to have the tyres ready) that he was coming in. This undercut him ahead of both Massa and Sebastian Vettel and ultimately secured Alonso his second place when it looked like he was going be trapped in fourth. Massa afterwards said: "It was risky what Fernando chose to do in cutting short the planned length. It meant that he risked having to even make a fourth stop later on. But in hindsight it worked for him."
It will be interesting to monitor how both the team and Alonso deal with the resurgence of Massa.