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Montezemolo says Ferrari right to keep Massa

Ferrari Formula One driver Felipe Massa of Brazil (L) and team mate Fernando Alonso of Spain get ready for a group photo before the Brazilia
Ferrari Formula One driver Felipe Massa of Brazil (L) and team mate Fernando Alonso of Spain get ready for a group photo before the Brazilia

(Reuters) - Ferrari were right to extend Felipe Massa's Formula One contract into 2013 even if he seemed to go on holiday for the first part of this year, Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo said on Thursday.

The Italian team will have an unchanged lineup next season, Brazilian Massa again partnering double world champion Fernando Alonso, and Montezemolo assessed their performances at a Christmas media lunch in Maranello.

He compared Alonso, overall runner-up this season to Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel but voted driver of the year by team principals, to former Ferrari champions Niki Lauda and Michael Schumacher.

"Like the former, he has the ability to drive every race lap as though it was qualifying. Like the latter, he has the intelligence to know when it's time to push and when it's time to look after the car," said Montezemolo of the Spaniard.

Massa also appeared to be two different drivers, but in a less positive fashion.

"The Brazilian improved a great deal in the second half (of the season): in fact in the first part, it seemed he'd gone on a round the world holiday," said the team president in remarks published on the team website. (www.ferrari.com)

"Joking apart, I think the decision to reconfirm his position was the right one: if we had changed, then one would need to take on someone who would make a difference and I can't say I noticed many drivers around who would be quicker than Felipe," he added.

Massa has been part of the Ferrari 'family' for a decade, racing for the team from 2006 after previous stints at Ferrari-powered Sauber and serving as a Ferrari test driver.

The Brazilian had not stood on the podium for two years until he managed a second place in Japan in October and was offered a one-year extension later that month after much speculation that he would be dropped.

At the halfway point in the season he had scored just 23 points to Alonso's 154 and ended the year with 122.

"We did not want to change the balance and the good atmosphere within the team. (Team principal Stefano) Domenicali and I told ourselves it was best to wait and I think that the facts proved us right," said Montezemolo.

"Towards the end, when Felipe was even faster than Fernando a couple of times, the points he scored played a vital part in securing our place in the Constructors' championship."

Ferrari ended the season second to Red Bull.

(Reporting by Alan Baldwin; Editing by John Mehaffey)

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