March 7th, 2013 (F1plus/H. Hough).- Felipe Massa has had a lot to contend with in his Formula One career. Partnering three world champions and overcoming a near fatal accident are just two examples.
The Brazilian is only behind Michael Schumacher in terms of race starts for Ferrari, arguably the most iconic team in F1, and certainly the most successful. In 2012 he weathered the pressure placed on him by the team and the wider F1 community, with people calling for him to be replaced. 2013 will see him start his eighth season for the Scuderia but can he fight for the championship?
With 15 pole positions, 11 wins and 24 podiums, Massa is certainly no slouch. Most of these came prior to his 2009 crash which many feared would end his career. His last victory was the bittersweet home win in 2008 which saw him so narrowly miss out on being crowned champion. He then had to wait 36 races, between the 2010 Korean GP and the 2012 Japanese GP for a podium, after a difficult 2011.
In 2012, however, it looked like Massa had turned a corner. It would probably be fair to say that he doesn’t quite have whatever Fernando Alonso has, that allows him to outdrive a dog of a car and score regular podiums and a few race wins. However, after a few races to forget at the start of 2012, Massa certainly seemed to come into his own. His achievements may have been overshadowed somewhat by Alonso challenging for the championship, but by Bahrain Massa was scoring points, and finishing every race from the Hungarian GP onwards with an average fifth position, including two podiums.
Massa is the fifth most experienced driver on the current grid and has over a decade of experience under his belt.
He made his debut in 2002, partnering Nick Heidfeld at Sauber. Massa finished 13th in the championship, just three points behind his more experienced team-mate. In 2003 he was left without a drive and became Ferrari’s test driver, and this marked the start of his longstanding relationship with the team.
After another stint at Sauber, Massa replaced fellow countryman and friend Rubens Barrichello at Ferrari in 2006. He qualified second for his first race with them and over the course of the year took three pole positions, two race wins, and seven podiums. He became the first Brazilian since Ayrton Senna to win at Interlagos.
Being up against seven-time world champion Schumacher was no mean feat, but Massa held his own and finished ahead five times, ending the season third in the championship. It looked like a star had been born.
From 2007 – 2009 Massa was partnered by Kimi Räikkönen at Ferrari. The Brazilian continued to impress, notching up a further six pole positions, three wins, and ten podiums in 2007. He looked set to win his home race once again until having to play the team game to ensure Räikkönen beat his rivals to the title. Towards the end of 2007, Massa extended his contract to the end of the 2010, ensuring a longer stay at the team. In 2008 he got off on the wrong foot, retiring from the first two races, but he eventually went into the final race with a chance of winning the championship. He needed to win or come second, and hope Hamilton finished outside the top five. Massa did all he need to – securing pole position and winning the race in changeable and tricky conditions – but Hamilton took the all important fifth in a tense final lap meaning the championship was his.
It was in 2009 that Massa’s F1 career took a turn. In a year where Ferrari and fellow front-runners McLaren struggled after the introduction of new rules and regulations, newly formed Brawn GP and the Red Bull team came to the fore.
After a podium at the German GP, Massa was involved in a serious accident during qualifying for the Hungarian GP. A spring from Barrichello’s rear suspension came loose and hit Massa’s helmet at a high speed part of the circuit, sending his car careering straight into a barrier.
It soon became apparent that the errant spring had penetrated Massa’s helmet. The next few months were tense as Massa underwent various surgeries, but thankfully he was soon on the road to recovery. He made an emotional return to F1 when he waved the chequered flag at the end of the Brazilian GP that year.
Many have pinpointed the accident as the place where Massa’s F1 career changed, with people suggesting he hasn’t quite been the same since. On his return to Ferrari for the 2010 season he partnered Alonso, and was on to win the German GP until he received the now infamous “Fernando is faster than you” radio call. Massa pulled over to let his team-mate through, as Alonso was challenging for the championship, as he did again in 2011 and 2012, while Massa was not.
Both Alonso and Massa have seemed decidedly more positive about the 2013 car after pre-season testing. Massa only seemed to improve through the latter half of 2012 and, if he can carry that form through to this season, it may be a case of ‘when’ he wins, rather than ‘if’. The question is, can he challenge for the championship or has his time been and gone? We’ll just have to wait and see.