By the time we left Korea it was 99 per cent certain that Felipe Massa would be retained by Ferrari for an eighth consecutive season. However, that hasn't stopped me repeatedly thinking what an uninspiring decision it is.
I should say straight off that if the tenure of the second Ferrari was about being a grounded, decent bloke, then Massa should be in it for life. The dignity with which he dealt with coming so close to, but ultimately losing, the 2008 Formula 1 World Championship on the final lap of the final round in his native Brazil was a lesson to one and all. But my next-door neighbour is a nice bloke, too, and it doesn't entitle him to a Ferrari.
As part of its announcement of Massa's new deal, Ferrari said: "He has shown himself, especially in the latter part of the season, to be competitive at the highest level, as we expect from every driver behind the wheel of a Ferrari."
Which does seem to be over-egging the pudding somewhat. More accurately, Massa has borne a passing resemblance to a Ferrari driver in Japan and Korea, but that's about it.
As my colleague Edd Straw mentioned last week, there has always been the issue of Massa's Hungarian Grand Prix accident of 2009, when he was hit by a rogue spring from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn.
When I spoke to the late Professor Sid Watkins about that earlier this year, he made the point that while there is no reason a driver can't make a complete recovery and be unaffected by a serious head injury, each case is unique.
Watkins countenanced a chat with Steve Olvey, a US-based medic, who has detailed knowledge of Massa's case and has close ties with eminent eye specialists in Miami.
Olvey expressed similar sentiments, saying that they had been entirely satisfied with Massa's progress and with his potential to function as before in a racing car.
But injuries like that can affect things such as concentration, often without the 'injured' party even being aware of it.
Ferrari is not the hugely political environment it was in the days of John Surtees in the sixties, and you can imagine Maranello cutting Massa some slack because, as Watkins acknowledged, these things can take time. The Professor, in fact, recalled telling Stirling Moss that his high standards had perhaps led him to expect too much too soon when he drove again after his grand prix career-ending shunt at Goodwood.
In Massa's case, though, his performances relative to Fernando Alonso over the past three years have worsened rather than improved. In 2010, Massa scored 57% of Alonso's points total; in 2011, it was 46%; and to date in 2012, it is 39%.
Which is by far the worst team-mate comparison in the entire pitlane! If you take the nine teams that have scored points in 2012, the most competitive inter-team rivalry is at Force India, where Paul Di Resta has scored 98% of Nico Hulkenberg's points.
In descending order, the remainder look like this: Jenson Button has 85% of Lewis Hamilton's total at McLaren; Kamui Kobayashi has 76% of Sergio Perez's at Sauber; Bruno Senna has 76% of Pastor Maldonado's at Williams; Daniel Ricciardo has 75% of Jean-Eric Vergne's at Toro Rosso; Mark Webber has 70% of Sebastian Vettel's Red Bull total; Romain Grosjean has 53% of Kimi Raikkonen's score at Lotus; and the next poorest comparison to Massa is Michael Schumacher's 46% of Nico Rosberg's Mercedes total.
Two significant factors in Massa's 2012 drop-off in relation to Alonso are the increased competitiveness of the field, which has allowed more rivals to get between them, and the fact that Ferrari has struggled for qualifying pace. However, in the 16 GPs to date, Massa has been outqualified 15-1 by Alonso. This, in turn, has made the races tough for Massa.
Felipe Massa won universal respect for the way he handled heart-breaking defeat in 2008 © XPB
Although 2012 has been something of an exception, it's normally pretty safe to say that only the top two or three teams in F1 will afford a driver a race-winning car. It has ever been thus. Most recently, those teams have been Red Bull, McLaren and Ferrari. So to have one of those plum seats taken up by a driver who is not performing is, well, frustrating.
I can only imagine that doesn't even make a start on the way Messrs Hulkenberg and di Resta must be feeling. When you have a pair of drivers as competitive as those Force India numbers suggest, it generally means they are getting everything there is to be had out of the car. Either you've got a couple of aces on your hands, or else a pair of tugboats. And, in the case of Hulkenberg and Di Resta, I'd suspect it's the former.
Unfortunately, we're not going to find out. Unless, of course, Hulkenberg goes on to show Peter Sauber what he's been missing.
I could fully understand the Nicolas Todt-managed Massa securing a Ferrari contract when Jean Todt was team principal there and the Brazilian was nip and tuck with Raikkonen, and driving as he did in 2008. I've got to admit, though, that I don't get it now.
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