After years of frustrations following his life-threatening injury, it seems Felipe Massa is finally back among Formula One's elite drivers.
Massa will start from second on the grid in Sunday's Malaysian Grand Prix after qualifying ahead of his more illustrious teammate Fernando Alonso for the fourth straight race. That is good news for a Ferrari team looking for its first title since 2007 - and even better news for Massa, who has struggled ever since he sustained a fractured skull in a crash at the Hungarian Grand Prix in 2009. He hasn't won a race since the injury and in 2011 became the first Ferrari driver to go a full season without a podium finish, leading to speculation that the team would replace him.
But he placed third in the season-ending Brazilian Grand Prix last year and has a chance to confirm he's back to his best on Sunday.
"I feel very happy ... driving the car. I like the car that we have this year much more compared to the car we had last year," Massa said. "I think I understand a lot more the direction for the setup and everything. The best thing for the team is always to have the best drivers finishing in the best positions, so that's really a positive point for the team and for myself as well, for Fernando, so I think it's a good direction."
Massa's early season success - he finished fourth in Australia - also justifies the team's decision to extend his contract in 2012 for one more season. That move indicated they still had faith in a driver who at times appeared to be on the way out. There was talk that defending champion Sebastian Vettel might be in line to replace Massa but Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo said last year he didn't want "two roosters in the same henhouse."
But if Brazilian keeps outpacing Alonso, Di Montezemolo may just have that kind of problem on his hands.
The revival of Massa was not lost on Alonso, who at times sounded defensive after repeatedly being asked about why he couldn't keep up with his teammate.
"I've been racing 27 years now in motor racing - I'm getting old - so it's not the first time that we have very close competition," Alonso said. "So this year it is again very close, no big difference."
Alonso also tried to be diplomatic, insisting it would only help the team's bid for a championship to have two competitive drivers each race.
"It's the best news for the team, because we need to have a competition between the two drivers in the team, we need to share information between the drivers in the team," he said. "We will push each other to our own limits and this is good news for the team."