Felipe Massa: The Ferrari Years


Records will show that Felipe Massa never won the Formula One World Championship with Ferrari, but, as is often the case with this complex sport, that doesn’t tell the full story.

That Felipe has been at Ferrari for seven years, and has been team mates to three champions (with no less than 10 championships between them) and come back from a skull fracturing crash, shows you all you need to know about Massa’s spirit.

Ferrari surprised many people back in 2006, when they announced that the somewhat error-prone Brazilian would be the team mate of Michael Schumacher. Indeed, his results at Sauber had not been that spectacular. He was clearly very fast, but his race craft was poor.

But Ferrari had obviously been impressed by Massa’s time at the team in 2002 when he held the role of test driver.

To start with, Felipe appeared out of sorts at Ferrari – memorably coming close to taking out eventual future team mate Fernando Alonso at Bahrain as he made a mess of turn one.  However, it wasn’t long before Massa started to reward Ferrari’s faith, and he took his first ever pole position and race victory later that year at the Turkish Grand Prix, his first of three victories at the Istanbul circuit.

He rounded out that first year as a Ferrari driver with an emotional victory at his home race in Brazil. From there, he didn’t look back, as he took three victories the following year to finish fourth in the championship.

The overriding memory for many that year would be his wheel-banging fight with Alonso at Nurburgring as they contested the lead in the closing laps of the race. Or what about the verbal confrontation that followed before they made their way out onto the podium?

In contrast to this, Felipe has sometimes gone above and beyond the call of duty to help his team mate. Certainly, there are few others on the grid who would have done what he has over the years, to aid Schumacher, Raikkonen or Alonso.

2007 was the first time the world saw what a brilliant team player Massa could be – as he sacrificed another victory at Brazil to allow team mate Raikkonen to win. It was a victory that secured the Finn the World Championship.

But Massa’s greatest season was in 2008, where he out classed his more illustrious team mate for most the season, and came oh-so-close to winning the title in a final round decider against Lewis Hamilton. Had it not been for an engine failure when in the lead of the Hungarian Grand Prix that season, he’d have become World Champion.

But the way he carried himself in defeat that day at Interlagos in such a dignified manner was a clear sign to everyone that he wasn’t a number two driver any more. He was a championship contender in his own right.

2009 was the turning point for Felipe though. In the early rounds, he struggled with an uncompetitive Ferrari – yet more often than not still managed to beat Raikkonen. But everything changed during qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Many people doubted whether Felipe would ever return to F1 after sustaining such a horrific injury. He did, but since he returned to the sport in 2010 he has failed to win a single race and only appeared on the podium seven times.

Is he the same driver that he was prior to his accident in 2009?

It is perhaps too easy to put his drop off in form down to that. Indeed, Felipe and numerous doctors don’t believe he has changed in the slightest.

You could argue then, that the problem was Fernando Alonso’s arrival into the team.

Of course, things could have been very different in 2010. Many will claim he is the rightful winner of that year’s German Grand Prix. It is a race now synonymous with the infamous radio message from Massa’s race engineer, Rob Smedley: “Okay…Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood the message?”

He understood only too well, and pulled over to allow Fernando a controversial victory. It was the race, which rather unsurprisingly, crushed his spirit. From then on, he could never quite match Alonso, his confidence and self-belief gone.

But the fact that he has racked up more starts for Ferrari than anyone else, other than Michael Schumacher, shows what a dedicated and loyal employee of the Scuderia he has been. Few would begrudge seeing him on the grid with another team next year.

So what are his chances for 2014?

Well, as I wrote yesterday, they are fairly limited. Nico Hulkenberg looks to be the favourite to replace Raikkonen at Lotus, but Massa could find a home at Sauber, the team where his F1 journey began all those years ago, as a replacement for Hulkenberg.

Of course, as the likes of Mark Webber, Rubens Barrichello and Timo Glock will say, there is life beyond Formula One, and it is not inconceivable that Massa could move on to another form of racing.

IndyCar could be one possibility, or he could choose to race with his good friend Barrichello in the Brazilian Stockcar championship. The other option could be to follow Glock into the DTM.

Massa recently made comments that he’d prefer to race in something like the DTM instead of the World Endurance Championship (incidentally where Webber is off to) because he isn’t keen on the speed difference of cars involved in multi-class racing.

Therefore, a move to Mercedes, who are expected to expand from a six car team to an eight car operation in the DTM next year, could be on the cards.

But before then, Felipe will just be concentrating on his final seven races as a Ferrari driver. Who knows? Now the pressure is off, he may start to challenge Alonso once again.

That’d be a satisfying way to sign off.

  • Roy Thorogood

    The problem has always been that when your team has a number one driver, which in the case of Ferrari has been Schumacher, Raikkonen and Alonso, the number two driver has no chance. Remember this season’s comments by Mark Webber when he won a Grand Prix ‘not bad for a number two driver.’ That I think says it all. Sadly, Felipe’s big accident definitely affected his performance, but his recovery was amazing. Good for him, he should stay in F1.