Felipe Massa will be back on the kind of form that took him to the brink of 2008 Formula 1 world title next year, according to Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo.
The Brazilian failed to finish higher than fifth during the 2011 season and ended the year with less than half the points of his team-mate Fernando Alonso. But di Montezemolo has tipped him to bounce back next year, which will be a crucial campaign for Massa's future as he has only one more season left on his Ferrari contract.
"I am sure that we will have a competitive Felipe as he was before," said di Montezemolo. "Don't forget that he was sometimes quicker than Michael Schumacher when he was his teammate.
"I expect a strong reaction from Felipe because he is coming out of an unsuccessful season. There are reasons that explain this [disappointing year]. Felipe can have a very good season next year and I know that he is preparing himself very well."
Di Montezemolo dismissed suggestions that Massa's crash during qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, which left him with serious head injuries and forced him to miss the rest of that season, has anything to do with his struggles during the past two years. He pointed to the handling of the car and tire characteristics as being responsible for the Brazilian's struggles.
"The characteristics of our car were not in line with his driving characteristics," he said. "This was clear since the first test. And the tires were too hard.
"A driver doesn't change so much in one year. He was very quick against Kimi Raikkonen [his teammate in 2007 and '08]. It's nothing to do with the crash. Felipe will be competitive if our car is competitive."
If Massa does not raise his game significantly after managing only five podium finishes in the past two seasons, it is very unlikely that he will be given a new contract. Di Montezemolo confirmed that the team is constantly evaluating the drivers on the market and hinted that any driver decision would not be made until toward the end of the 2012 campaign.
"At the end of next season, we will have lots of possibilities," he said. "There is a big choice. Today, the only problem that we don't have is a driver problem. We will see what happens with [Robert] Kubica as I hope that he can come back. This year I also very much liked Nico Rosberg. He had a very good performance.
"And there are drivers with good potential who are not in competitive cars. This is a reason why I am in favor of a third car."