Gray Matter: Has Massa saved his job?

Will Gray

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The pressure has been on Felipe Massa all season following a series of disappointing early season performances - but could his recent upturn in form just have saved him from the chop?

Ferrari often announces their driver line-up at Monza, taking the opportunity to reveal the news at the track where hundreds of thousands of followers flock to show their support. This year, though: nothing.

Alonso is, of course, locked in for the long-term (declaring before Monza that he plans to see out his career with the team, possibly even after his contract ends at the end of 2016). The number-two role, however, has come under heavy scrutiny and until Monza it seemed inevitable that Massa would be forced to make way.

Ferrari had a tough start this season with an underperforming car but Alonso was able to make the most of it while Massa struggled. It took Massa four races to score his first points - two for a ninth place in Bahrain - but by then Alonso had already racked up 43. After ten races, Massa was down in 14th place on 23 points while Alonso was top of the pile with 154.

But things began to turn around at Silverstone. Before that race, he had missed out on the top-ten shoot-out on eight of 10 occasions but there he qualified fifth. His engineer, Rob Smedley, said he was "a different driver" to how he was at the start of the year and he went on to take a fourth place finish.

Since then he has scored points in three of the last four races, taking a season-best fourth place at Monza having run ahead of Alonso for part of the race. In the last two races alone, with fifth and fourth place finishes, he nearly doubled his point tally.

And after the recent performances and results, mutterings from Ferrari are now indicating a possibly positive future.

It's no secret that Ferrari has been looking at alternatives - but those options are reducing.

Mark Webber was sounded out about a move before he committed to Red Bull while rumours of Kimi Raikkonen making a return were surely just a negotiating tool to secure his future as team leader at Lotus, which is now arguably a championship contender.

Paul di Resta was on the list but with strong suggestions that Michael Schumacher will call it quits and Lewis Hamilton potentially looking at a move from McLaren to Mercedes, the Briton is likely to fill whichever seat is left vacant thanks to his Mercedes connections.

Which leaves Nico Hulkenberg and Sergio Perez as the two most likely challengers for Massa's seat.

Perez is part of Ferrari's driver academy and is clearly being lined up for a move - but before Monza Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo effectively ruled him out for 2013 stating: "next season is too early."

Hulkenberg is still in contention but would be costly to extract from Force India and, if Massa's form continues, it's hard to argue against the Brazilian extending his stay.

Team boss Stefano Domenicali has said he is "personally really behind him" and the Brazilian clearly has a positive team relationship, is well liked, gets on with Alonso and accepts that he is firmly number two when he has to be. A newcomer could be unsettling.

So, Massa looks fairly well set - but the only curveball could be Robert Kubica.

It's now almost 20 months since the Pole suffered horrendous injuries in a rallying crash, but he returned to the wheel of a rally car last weekend. And he won. His comeback proves he could be competitive and while a local rally is a long way from Formula One, it's one step closer. The Pole is still highly rated and perhaps even a half-fit Kubica could be more enticing for Ferrari than a fully fit Massa.

It's a long shot, but that could be why Ferrari are still happy to wait it out on their number two...

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