The writing is on the wall, as far as Felipe Massa's future with the Ferrari Formula 1 team is concerned and unless there are drastic improvements in the Brazilian's performances and results in the near future - starting with the Monaco Grand Prix on 27 May - the long-serving ace may have to find himself a new drive or contemplate retirement.
The numbers make for stark and sombre reading for Massa and his fans. The Brazilian has only two points to his name after the opening five rounds of the 2012 World Championship, while his team mate and former World Champion Fernando Alonso is tied with defending World Champion Sebastian Vettel with 61 points for the lead in this year's championships. Alonso has out-qualified and outraced his team mate at each race this season; Massa's best finish was a ninth place in Bahrain, while Alonso has one win to his name - at Malaysia.
The team has now cranked up the pressure on their driver, with a Reuters report stating they expected an immediate improvement in performance.
"Fernando has always maintained a very high level (67 points and second place in 2010, 51 and fifth place last year) while Felipe's drop off has made itself felt. The Brazilian had picked up 49 points two years ago and 24 the following year, while so far this season he has just two. In Montmelo (Barcelona), Felipe was very unlucky, both in the race and in qualifying, but everyone, he more than anyone, is expecting a change of gear starting right away with the Monaco Grand Prix," a statement on Ferrari's Web site read.
There were also words of warning from team boss Stefano Domenicali, after the last race in Spain.
"We expect Felipe to react and fight back after this unlucky weekend, starting in Monaco. We absolutely need his points to also fight for the constructors' title," the Italian was quoted as saying.
There is the mitigating circumstance of the fact that the F2012 is by no means the fastest car on track. An analysis on Formula1.com points out the car started the season with a huge disadvantage - it was conceding a second a lap to its rivals. However, the fact that Alonso seems to have worked around the problem is not good news for Massa.
The Brazilian's fall from the top steps of the podium (he has not finished in the top three since 2010) is a far cry from the highs of 2008, when he lost the World Championship to McLaren's Lewis Hamilton by a single point. The continuing argument of a poor car can be made - Ferrari's last three race cars have all been deficient in some way or the other. However that still does not explain why or how Alonso has consistently outscored him during that period.
The pressure on Massa to begin delivering reasonable, if not great, performances is immense, particularly since Alonso really does need help to maintain the team's challenge on the Constructor's title. The only consolation for the beleaguered Brazilian is that Ferrari really does not have an option in terms of replacing him, unless they convince former star Michael Schumacher to return.
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