Analysis: Massa to Face Tough Challenge

Eddie Irvine likened being Michel Schumacher's teammate at Ferrari to being hit repeatedly around the head with a cricket bat

Analysis: Massa to Face Tough Challenge

Brazilian Rubens Barrichello, the Northern Irishman's successor in the sidekick role, compared the experience to stepping into the ring with a Sumo wrestler.

Felipe Massa, the next in line, can have no illusions about what he is up against.

"He is going to have a tough time, absolutely," said Barrichello.

When the 24-year-old Brazilian was announced this month as Barrichello's replacement for 2006, following his compatriot's decision to decamp to BAR, some saw him as a stopgap to tide Ferrari over until other drivers become available and Schumacher's future plans are known.

"They like Brazilians, for sure," said Renault's Italian Giancarlo Fisichella, who has long yearned to drive for Formula One's glamour team, at the inaugural Turkish Grand Prix.

"It's quite a surprise. Massa is a good driver, a quick driver, but maybe the experience is not enough.

"Maybe he is the right choice, even because other drivers still have contracts with their teams. There were not enough options for Ferrari."

One man they are interested in is McLaren's Kimi Raikkonen but the Finn is not available for at least another season. Neither is Fisichella, Championship-leading teammate Fernando Alonso or Briton Jenson Button.

The chances of Raikkonen or Alonso going to the Italian team while seven times champion Schumacher is still there are negligible anyway.

Ferrari, no longer the dominant team, would also need to convince them that they could offer more success than McLaren or Renault.

Good Contacts

Massa was the obvious choice.

Managed by Nicolas Todt, son of Ferrari boss Jean, he has been under contract to Maranello since 2001 and spent a year as Ferrari test driver in 2003.

He is tied to them well beyond next year, even if he has been confirmed as a race driver for 2006 only.

However, it would be a mistake to see Massa as no more than a temporary solution.

The Brazilian has made former champion Jacques Villeneuve look distinctly ordinary, in fact downright slow, this year and has shed the erratic tendencies that characterised his first year with Sauber in 2002.

Villeneuve, who drove with Alonso at Renault for the last three races of last year before partnering Massa at Sauber, rates the Brazilian very highly.

"He doesn't seem to have the personality for a number two," said the Canadian. "He's a fighter. I would be surprised if he just goes there and sits down and accepts everything.

"I had an easier time in the three races last year (with Alonso) than with Felipe at the beginning of this year," he said. "Now it's okay, but the first three or four races I had a hard time until I got used to the car.

"But also I think Fernando was bored last year."

Schumacher has said that he will know it is time for him to quit when he is no longer enjoying his racing and young and hungry rivals start to beat him regularly.

The best benchmark is always a teammate and, for the first time, 36-year-old Schumacher will be measured against a different generation in the same car.

"I think this is the best comparison a driver can have," said Massa. "Michael is still the example for every driver. If you can have this possibility to compare your speed with him, I think it's the best comparison you can have."

Hungry Newcomer

Villeneuve suggested Massa could push the German.

"Someone who arrives at a team is always more hungry than someone who has been there forever," said the 1997 champion.

"There's always a chance of a newcomer really taking big risks that aren't necessary and to beat you, although that doesn't mean the person is quicker than you. So it could happen that Felipe beats Michael because of that."

Schumacher, with 84 wins to his name as the most successful driver the sport has ever known, will nonetheless be more the leader than ever.

Massa, in a mere 47 starts, has yet to stand on the podium and lacks the experience of starting on the front row at a Grand Prix.

"Michael is used to being at the front and Felipe has never had the opportunity to be running at the front so that's a different mindset as well," said Villeneuve.

"As long as Michael is there, they won't let anyone off the leash because I think that's in Michael's contract. Very simple," he added.

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