The Brazilian Grand Prix is likely to be an emotional affair as Felipe Massa takes to the grid for what is possibly the final time…again.
The affable Brazilian is deservedly popular and will always be remembered as one of the sports true good guys. His career stands as an example of how it’s possible to get back up after the cruel world of F1 knocks you down and boy has Felipe been knocked down a few times. Here are just 10 of them.
10) He’s already retired again.
Saying goodbye is never easy. In 2016 a tearful Massa announced to the world that it was time to listen to his heart and call time on his Formula 1 career. We all cried, the entire pitlane came out to applaud him, Claire Williams gave him an F1 car and Felipe transformed into a ball of light and floated away into the cosmos – although I might be thinking of Doctor Who with that last bit.
Then a few days later Nico Rosberg declared “Hey, nice retirement. I think I’ll have one of those!” To which Mercedes declared “Hey, nice Valtteri Bottas. I think we’ll have one of those!” To which Williams declared “oh dear” and picked up the phone.
There’s a decent chance that Felipe will be called back again next year – because that Martini ain’t going to sell itself – but he’d probably rather you remember his retirement as the special moment it was supposed to be rather than the annual event that it’s becoming.
Update: He’s announced his 2017 retirement today, let’s see if it happens this time…
9) Being on the receiving end of a Verstappen verbal smackdown
If there’s one thing Felipe has come to love in his older years, it’s passing comment on younger drivers. Kamui Kobayashi , Roman Grosjean and Carlos Sainz have all come in for criticism from the veteran and on the whole these comments tend to be met with little more than a roll of the eyes.
Felipe perhaps expected the same response when he decided to administer a public dressing down to then 17 year old Max Verstappen for running into the back of Grosjean at the 2015 Monaco GP. But Max Verstappen, he don’t play that game.
“I’m focusing on Canada right now” replied Max, “maybe you should review the race from last year and see what happened there.” – A reference to Massa crashing into the back of Sergio Perez the previous year.
Cue a press room full of raised eyebrows and one very unhappy looking Brazilian.
8) Having his championship hopes hosed down
Everybody remembers how the 2008 season ended – don’t worry, we’ll get to that – but in many ways it was the Singapore GP where the title was really decided.
Massa was leading the race when Renault boss Flavio Briatore decided that he didn’t much like his man Fernando Alonso pottering around at the back and ordered Nelson Piquet Jnr to crash into the wall. The safety car came out, ‘Nando took the lead and everybody else dashed into the pits.
Things started well for Felipe. He stopped on his mark, the tires were changed, the fuel went in, the jack dropped and the light went green. There was just one problem: the fuel hose was still attached. Massa tore out of his box, taking half the fuel rig with him before coming to a stop at the end of the pitlane.
The Ferrari mechanics raced to rectify their error but by then it was far too late. Felipe was dead last and his title challenge was in tatters.
Fortunately it would be the last time that he would have to suffer for Alonso.
7) “Fernando is faster than you”
At the start of the 2009 season F1.com declared that Massa was “No longer the Ferrari number two” and predicted great things for him in the coming years. This might have proven true had the team stuck with the off-form Kimi Räikkönen as his teammate, but when Felipe returned from injury in 2010 he found double world champion Alonso on the other side of the garage.
A few months later Massa was leading the 2010 German GP when race engineer and long-time friend, Rob Smedley was ordered to deliver one of the most infamous radio messages in F1 history:
“Fernando is faster than you. Can you confirm you understood that message?”
Team orders were banned at the time but the meaning was clear. The “No longer number 2” driver pulled aside and allowed Fernando past. It was a betrayal that neither Massa nor Smedley would every truly forgive the team for.
Fortunately it would be the last time that he would have to suffer for Alonso.
6) Having his gearbox deliberately broken to help his teammate
Massa is often praised for his dignity. Part of the reason for that is down to the way he conducts himself and part of it is because he’s never punched Fernando Alonso.
So it was the 2012 US GP and Felipe had out-qualified the Spaniard for only the second time that season. Recognising this achievement, Ferrari decided to set favouritism aside and put all of their resources into supporting him.
Only joking! They broke the seal on Massa’s gearbox even though there was nothing wrong with it, giving him an immediate 5 place penalty and allowing Fernando to move up one place at start on the clean side of the track.
In fairness, Alonso was fighting for the world championship at the time and Massa wasn’t but even so, damn.
5) Being dropped by Sauber because they didn’t want to serve a penalty
In today’s era of mega engine penalties which frequently see cars starting from Mars, being afraid of a mere 10-place penalty seems odd. However this wasn’t the case back in 2002 when a rookie Felipe was driving for Sauber.
After colliding with Pedro de la Rosa at the Italian GP, Massa was handed a 10-place penalty for the following race however back then grid penalties didn’t carry over which gave Sauber a sneaky idea.
They sacked Massa and replaced him with the penalty free Heinz-Harald Frentzen, then when the race was over they swapped the two men around again. The result was that the actual penalty was never served and Massa endured a one race suspension despite having never been handed one.
Grid penalties, don’t you just love them?
4) His son upstages him every time they’re on camera together
A vital skill for all F1 drivers – aside from speed – is the ability to answer questions from the media with a sense of steely calm and professionalism. This is made significantly harder when you’re often accompanied by your son who is the funniest person in motorsport.
Felipinho Massa, you legend.
3) Pretty much every Australian Grand Prix
All drivers have a bogy track, that one place where the gravel traps loom larger and podium seems all but unattainable. For Felipe Massa, that place is Albert Park.
Massa has a terrible record in Melbourne. Despite driving for top teams for most of his 15 starts, he has scored points on only six occasions. The worst part is that almost none of the bad races have been his fault as a combination of engine failures, suspension failures and – in the case of 2014 – Caterham failures have seen him rack up a whopping seven DNFs.
He did make it to the podium once but it’s still unlikely to be a track you’ll see much of on his career highlights package.
2) His near death experience
Head protection is a hot button topic these days and few drivers have a more personal stake in the debate than Massa.
On the 25th July 2009, during qualifying for the Hungarian GP, a spring broke loose from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn and pierced Felipe’s visor at around 170mph. The unconscious Brazilian then ploughed into the barriers at full speed, coming to a stop in the tire wall.
He was airlifted to hospital with a life threatening skull fracture and underwent emergency surgery; finally regaining consciousness the following morning. The injury would keep him out of F1 until the following March. It was nearly so much worse than that.
1) He was world champion for 39 seconds
It was only ever going to be this, wasn’t it.
There is a good reason why, for many, the 2008 Brazilian GP is the definitive title decider. Behind in the points after the disaster in Singapore, Felipe needed to win the race and hope that Lewis Hamilton finished sixth or lower in order to take the title in front of his home fans.
Under immense pressure, Massa put his Ferrari on pole and then led from lights to flag in difficult conditions. McLaren by contrast ran a woeful race and when Felipe rounded the final corner, Hamilton was still trapped in sixth.
As the Ferrari crossed the line the crowd and team erupted into celebration but it was not to be. In one of the most famous overtakes of all time, Hamilton swept past Timo Glock on the final corner to snatch the championship away by a single point.
It was a crushing blow and as the news spread across the paddock the heartbreak in the Ferrari garage was obvious.
What followed was one of the most emotional moments in the history of the Formula 1. With tears streaming down his face Massa took to the podium, pounding his chest and in a defiant salute to the Brazilian fans. It’s one of the great images of our sport: evocative, passionate and utterly brilliant.
And that’s our list. Know of any other things that Felipe Massa would like us to forget? Let us know and may your Lewis Hamilton always remain in sixth.