July 8, 2014 (F1plus/Katie Grimmett).- Felipe Massa has come a long way since his Grand Prix debut in the Sauber C21 in 2002. At Silverstone, he joined a prestigious list after celebrating 200 Grand Prix starts with three different teams. Amidst some controversy at Ferrari and a potentially career-ending injury, the Brazilian’s time in Formula 1 has produced some sensational race results. Now the third most experienced driver on the grid, Massa brings some much needed hindsight to an ever-improving Williams line up.
Indeed, when Peter Sauber signed a young Felipe Massa in late 2002, Daniil Kvyat was just eight years old, Shanghai was yet to host a Grand Prix and the dominant force we know as Red Bull Racing was not in existence. When explained in these terms, it is easy to see the benefits of experience in an ever evolving Formula 1 era. At times of great change, Massa has remained a consistent force of Grand Prix racing since his debut at the Australian Grand Prix twelve years ago.
The Sauber C21 was not a championship contender when it roared in anger at the 2002 season opener in Albert Park. However, the Swiss challenger would be a considerable improvement on their struggling 2014 model, it must be said. Massa’s strong eighth place finish left him outside the points but one position ahead of team mate, Nick Heidfeld. A driver’s first race is sometimes a fan’s first opportunity to witness them in action so a strong start is of vital importance.
Despite missing 2003, following the arrival of Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Massa enjoyed three years at the Swiss team, completing his time under the watchful eye of Peter Sauber in 2005. Sauber and Ferrari have enjoyed prestigious links for many a year; the former nurturing great talents (including 2007 victor Kimi Raikkonen) on behalf of the Italian outfit. When, in 2003, the racing circus made its way to the dusty roads of Bahrain, Massa’s inevitable opportunity to join Ferrari became a reality.
Often introverted, the now thirty-three year old was still able to assert himself early on as a confident front-runner for the renowned Italian squad.
Brazilian’s have enjoyed an illustrious history in Formula 1 and his partnership with Michael Schumacher promised a strong battle for his home nation. By then, the great German was a seven time world champion, gifting the young Ferrari protégé with a diverse knowledge base. Rather fittingly, as he commemorates his 200th Grand Prix, it is Valtteri Bottas who can learn from his much older team mate at a newly-named Williams Martini.
Massa started his career with Sauber in 2002 (Photo Monaco GP 2005/LAT Photo)
A powerful moment at the podium when he lost the championship despite winning more races, including the hearbreaking one in his country. (Brazil 2008)
Massa now leads a reborn Williams team. (LAT Photo)
2006 was one of the Brazilian’s better years – Fernando Alonso was champion for Renault but, in only his first year at Ferrari, Massa claimed a confident third place behind his team mate. His first win, occurring after sixty-six Grands Prix starts, is perhaps one of his most well known.
It really was quite the win. In the heart of Turkey, Massa remained calm to convert his pole position as an incident involving Giancarlo Fisichella saw multiple drivers spinning and retiring from the turbulent race.
It was a controversial podium tainted by political grievances, but the outcome was clear. On his day, Massa could beat Schumacher when both were gifted the same car. It does beg the question: how many drivers could say that?
His previous Sauber models, as much as we all love the team, were not capable of winning a championship but their former driver showed early promise at the helm of the consistent Ferrari 248.
Of course, his greatest opportunity for title glory occurred in 2008 when back-to-back drivers’ championships beckoned for an on form Ferrari. Kimi Raikkonen was the star of the show in 2007 but it was clear that McLaren’s nurtured youngster, Lewis Hamilton would pose the greatest threat to the legendary team.
2008 will remain perhaps his most emotionally charged year and also his most successful. To fall one point short of the championship is heart-breaking, particularly when the title is snatched in the last few moments and completely out of your control. Hamilton was victorious, securing his only championship to date, clutching glory from a man just four years his senior. The Brazilian’s ten podiums were outweighed by his double retirement at the beginning of the year – the title ultimately decided by a few cases of unreliability and misjudged strategy.
Massa’s 2008 defeat was cruel, even the most avid Hamilton fans will admit that. Indeed, for a time, it did look as if would be his last chance to fight for a championship when a season ending crash at the Hungaroring in 2009 threatened to end his career.
There was little anyone could do about the flying debris from Rubens Barrichello’s car. Forced to withdraw before the tenth round of the 2009 championship, this incident undoubtedly remains a low point for the Sao Paulo born racer. After all, it is rare in this safer era of Formula 1 for crashes to cause such a huge impact to a driver’s season. Just look at Silverstone and the 47G force endured by Kimi Raikkonen who somehow emerged from the wreckage with just a few bruises to his body.
The time frame for Massa’s return remained unclear, as is sadly the way with head injuries. Many feared for his confidence and whether the original Felipe would resurface at Ferrari in time for the 2008 season. Any doubts were put to rest when he secured two poignant podiums in Bahrain and Australia, just mere months after his career-threatening wounds. The champagne celebrations at the opening races are testament to his strength and the design of the F60’s chassis.
Eleven wins and thirty-six podiums makes for good reading if you are a Massa fan but this success is perhaps marred by his 2009 crash in Hungary. One cannot help but think whether the sometimes under-confident driver is one of the best on the grid to not win a championship of his own. Some greats did not achieve this – Jacky Ickx, Gilles Villeneuve and Sir Stirling Moss were also denied their place in history. Formula 1 is not simply defined by championships but by wins, consistency and emotionally charged stories.
From his first win in Turkey 2006, to his 846 career points and heart-wrenching story of redemption, Massa has offered memorable and touching moments, just without the trophy to match. This certainly does not make him any less of a driver.
The 2014 title may be beyond him but, alongside Bottas, consistency will prevail for Williams. In Formula 1, there is always a younger alternative ready to replace an aging sportsman but, despite years of uncertainty at the Scuderia, Massa has remained a crucial part of the twenty-two man grid.
It would not be a surprise if Felipe Massa continues his run in Formula 1 for a few more years.