Fourteen years, eleven wins, sixteen pole positions and a World Championship for thirty seconds. Felipe Massa will retire from F1 after Abu Dhabi with his head held very high. BadgerGP takes a look at his most memorable moments…
A Difficult Debut
Massa endured a rather difficult start to his F1 career in 2002. Numerous incidents during race weekends left him with a notorious reputation with his peers as a troublesome ‘crash kid’. This culminated with Massa being the first F1 driver to be handed the now infamous ‘ten place grid drop’ penalty at that year’s US Grand Prix.
Instead of wasting Massa’s time in Indianapolis, Sauber instead chose to replace him with Heinz-Harald Frentzen; the penalty only applied for that particular race and only towards the Brazilian. He was dropped at the end of the season and spent 2003 testing, and learning, with Ferrari instead.
After spending 2003 as Michael Schumacher’s mentor and 2004 back at Sauber, it was time for Massa to take on the big boys. Former world champion Jacques Villeneuve was signed up to be the Brazilian’s team-mate for 2005. Few gave Massa much hope of beating the Canadian.
The last laugh would be Massa’s however as he beat Villeneuve by a narrow margin at the year’s end. Massa looked like a completely different driver to the one Sauber saw three years previously. Consistency and patience had become a regular fixture in Massa’s race weekends. It was enough for Ferrari to come calling for 2006…
Mentored By Michael
2006 was the year Massa finally ‘came of age’ as it were. Now partnering the great Michael Schumacher, Massa learned how to hone his racecraft and unlock his car’s speed when it really mattered.
He bagged his first podium in the European Grand Prix. A further three came along before that illustrious maiden win finally came Massa’s way in Turkey. He was absolutely supreme around the Istanbul track all weekend with neither Schumacher or Renault’s Fernando Alonso having any answer to him.
It was enough for Schumacher to see that Massa didn’t deserve to be shunted out of his race seat for 2007, the German announcing his retirement at that year’s Italian Grand Prix to pave way for Kimi Raikkonen. The battle of the Sauber protégés was about to begin.
Nearly A Champion
After watching his team-mate snatch the 2007 title, Massa was under pressure to show he was more than a match for Raikkonen in 2008.
In the end, Raikkonen didn’t come close to Massa as the 2008 season drew to a close. Going into the final round in Brazil only Massa could stop Lewis Hamilton from taking the crown, his team-mate a distant fourth in the standings.
Massa did all he could in Brazil; he won the race with ease and crossed the line as world champion. Hamilton had to finish in fifth place and millions of hearts broke in São Paulo as he sped past Timo Glock around the final corner for that fifth spot. Massa missed out on the championship by a solitary point.
There were many tears on the podium, but also a show of enormous strength and courage as Massa displayed sportsmanship rarely seen in F1. He congratulated Hamilton all while winning fans across the world. It was his finest moment, even if perhaps the most hurtful.
Going into the 2009 season Massa was full of hope that he could still win the world championship. Unfortunately, Ferrari had fallen back in the running order thanks to the new rules, despite this Massa kept Raikkonen firmly in his back pocket as the summer break approached.
The 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix heralded the lowest point of Massa’s F1 career. A detached spring from Rubens Barrichello’s Brawn slammed into Massa’s helmet causing a head injury serious enough to put him in a coma. He wouldn’t race again in 2009.
By the time Massa was ready to race again Ferrari had employed him a new team-mate, Fernando Alonso. Things went very well for the 2010 season opener in Bahrain.
Massa qualified on the front row and held onto his second place during the race. However, Alonso won and it was the first signal that perhaps Massa was now not Ferrari’s chosen son.
Later in the year came that infamous call in Germany for Massa to let Alonso by for the win, despite Massa having been faster all race. It was the beginning of the end for Massa at Ferrari as his form against Alonso began to drop off dramatically.
By the end of 2013, Massa was unceremoniously replaced by Raikkonen, the very man he beat and the man Alonso was brought in to replace.
Massa left Ferrari to follow in the footsteps of heroes Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna and join Williams for 2014. Williams had just signed a deal for Mercedes’ excellent hybrid power units and with fresh money from Martini, promised great things.
New team-mate Valtteri Bottas had the upper hand on Massa for the majority of the season but the team’s finest moment still came at the hands of the Brazilian.
A punchy chassis coupled with that Mercedes power ensured that Williams would be a danger on the quicker tracks. This came to a head in Austria as Massa grabbed a shock pole position, his first since Brazil 2008 and Williams first in two years. He was beaten off the podium by the Mercedes duo and Bottas the following day but Massa had proved the raw speed was still there.
Three podiums did follow in 2014; a third in Italy and second in Abu Dhabi bookending an emotional third place at home in Brazil. Two more podiums would follow in 2015, including another third place at his second home, Italy.
A difficult 2016 season has perhaps led Massa into realising that those crucial final few tenths of lap time have gone missing. Bottas has consistently been ahead of him all year and unfortunately Massa has only scored two points in the last seven races.
With the announcement of his retirement in Italy, Felipe can now focus on just enjoying the final few races of 2016. How wonderful it would be to see him once again stand on the podium in front of him adoring home crowd in Brazil.
Thanks for the memories Felipe, all of us at BadgerGP will miss you and your wonderful smile in the paddock enormously.