Take away the emotion and you could say Felipe Massa crashed out of the Brazilian Grand Prix after a lacklustre display in atrocious conditions, but thankfully we’re not a heartless bunch. What Massa’s accident did provide, other than another safety car and a closed pitlane, was probably one of the purest human moments in recent F1 history.
It all came together like the stars aligning. The spin, the pit lane closure, the long walk back to the pits. Any other race at any other venue and it would be a quick wave to the camera and slinking off into the wilderness of the Williams garage, out of sight. But this was Felipe Massa, a Brazilian, at Interlagos, a Brazilian motor racing institution.
There were tears because it was over because the possible fairytale that the notorious wet weather brings in Sao Paulo didn’t materialise. Imagine the joy on the podium if Felipe had got there. The outburst of emotion that never was. But instead, there was the appreciation of a man who had poured his heart and soul into 250 races around the world.
The Brazilian fans love it’s motor racing, and it’s racing drivers loves them. Massa had brought the joy back to them after the tragic loss of Ayrton Senna. Rubens Barrichello tried, but could only share champagne on the podium with them. Felipe brought them two home soil victories, and, for those fleeting moments in 2008, the hope of a World Championship.
He hasn’t won a race since, and is lucky to be alive – let alone back in a racing car – after the accident in Hungary 2009. But he fought back with a smile on his face, never one to resort to dirty tactics or name calling to get his way. There were bad days (Germany 2010 and that radio message about Fernando), scraps with drivers that got a bit heated (including our current World Champion), but no grudges that ran deeper than a few terse words in the heat of battle.
Massa leaving Formula One sees a rarity of the sport disappear – a family man. His son has become something of a social media star thanks to his competitions with Daniel Ricciardo, his wife is ever present at races, and his father and brother’s appearance in the fallout of Interlagos 2008 is part of F1 folklore. With Felipe you don’t just get the man, you get his kin as well.
He knew the importance of trust between team members because he had the backing and trust of the people around him. Did that scupper any chance of becoming one of the great? Perhaps. There’s a ruthless streak that runs through the elite, and Massa never had the head for politics and putting himself first.
And there, if you will, is the main strength and greatest weakness of the Brazilian in one fell swoop. His humility in a sport known for its relentless pursuit of success, no matter the cost, was something that is becoming increasingly rare, especially as the average age of the grid continues to drop. The tribute at Interlagos was fitting for such a servant to Formula One and an excellent driver – guards of honour from other teams are as rare as they come.
It’s fitting that he had to visit the medical centre after his accident because the love shown to Felipe Massa on Sunday would be enough to turn anyone into an emotional wreck.