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Mat Coch writes:
The silly season has begun in earnest, thanks to the continued lacklustre performances from Ferrari's Felipe Massa.
Massa has been under pressure to retain his seat for some time, and only the lack of a ready-made replacement has prevented his demise thus far. The Brazilian has never quite returned to his former glory after sitting out the second half of 2009 due to injury. Since his return Massa has featured on the podium just five times whereas Fernando Alonso's has been up there 21 times over the same period, and seven of those were wins.
The latest suggestion doing the rounds is that Mark Webber will leave Red Bull to replace the Brazilian for next season. It's not a new claim but is one that's been in the news in recent days thanks to Spain's El Confidencial which has made the most of the lull in Formula One activity of late to snare a headline.
Last year it was suggested that Robert Kubica could be Ferrari bound, though the injured Pole has dropped from the radar in recent months. It's still not known if the former Renault and Sauber driver will return to the sport, though he was testing rally cars in Italy earlier this year. Nothing has been heard of him since.
That promoted Mark Webber as favourite. The Australian has been on a one-year contract with Red Bull ever since he joined the team in 2007, and is approaching the end of his career. The Anglo-Austrian team looks to be actively grooming a replacement, likely to be either Daniel Ricciardo or Jean-Eric Vergne, though both have denied they're auditioning for Webber's current seat. It is hard to imagine anyone else who would fill the void should Webber depart, even if Lewis Hamilton's name has been linked to it should Webber end up wearing red.
Sergio Perez threw a spanner in the works in Malaysia. An impressive display sparked suggestions that the Mexican could be Ferrari bound next year, a notion supported by the fact he is a part of the Ferrari Driver Academy. Perez does look to be one for the future, though Ferrari doesn't have a track record of promoting such raw talents - the last real 'rookie' the team hired was Gilles Villeneuve while Massa had three years of racing and a year of testing under his belt by the time he joined the Prancing Horse.
Next year will be Perez's third in Formula One. He's hardly worthy of rookie status however he is still developing. Leaving him with Sauber for another year will do him no harm, if another viable alternative to Massa is available for a year.
Hence the Webber rumours. In Hungary last year Helmut Marko told Australian TV that 2012 would be the former Williams driver's last with the team. With perhaps only a year or two of his career left Ferrari would therefore be a nice way to round out his time in Formula One, since Webber has previously discounted the prospect of simply making up numbers for the sake of racing. Webber and Alonso are also good friends, which does the rumour no harm.
Massa, one feels, has had his time while Perez's is yet to come; the Webber link therefore makes sense. He's a proven performer, gets on well with the established team leader, is out of contract and has a ready-made replacement should he leave Red Bull. The pieces of the puzzle do fit nicely making the rumour plausible.
For now however, the headlines are still just pure speculation and should be taken with a grain of salt.
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