Ferrari needs to rally around Felipe Massa in order to lift his performances in future grands prix, according to team principal Stefano Domenicali.
Massa finished only 15th in Malaysia on Sunday, more than 95 seconds adrift of his winning teammate Fernando Alonso. The result extended his streak without a Formula 1 podium to 23 races.
With Ferrari Academy driver Sergio Perez – who has already been linked with a race seat with the Italian team in 2013 – finishing second, the speculation surrounding Massa's future has continued to grow. But Domenicali refused to condemn his driver, instead insisting that it was up to the team to help re-establish the Brazilian's confidence behind the wheel and to improve the F2012 car that he has to drive.
'We need to stay close to Felipe in this moment," he said. "It's a difficult moment and we need to find a way for him to get confident in his car.
"We saw, for example, one step that was in the right direction in qualifying because we saw there was an improvement compared to last weekend. Now we need to understand what happened today in terms of his race pace and in terms of his performance.
"In my view, the problem is that this car is quite difficult. It can be very good and it can also be quite difficult. We showed this today that in certain conditions you have to have a certain driving style and you can be very, very good, and in other conditions you can destroy the tires.
"The priority for me and what I need to make sure is that Felipe has around him the protection of the team that tries to work hard with him. And on our side, we need to make sure he's confident to drive the car on the limit – without overdriving it, where the situation could be as bad as not being able to reach the limit."
Massa's result means that he is yet to score a point this season and ranks him 19th – behind both Marussia drivers – based on best results so far.