F1 » Felipe Massa
Felipe Massa has had to overcome preconceptions throughout his racing career - having variously been characterised as fast, wild and immature - but is showing his doubters the error of their ways as he establishes himself as an F1 frontrunner.
Like his fellow countrymen who preceded him, Felipe Massa began his racing career in the competitive Brazilian karting scene. Making his debut at the age of nine, he finished fourth in the Sao Paulo junior series, before gaining similar results as he worked his way through the various age groups.
In all, he remained in karts until the age of 17, when he made the switch to single-seaters in the equally-competitive Formula Chevrolet category in 1998.
A fifth place finish in the Brazilian equivalent of the successful Formula Opel championship was his initial reward, before a return the following season saw him clinch the title.
Having gone almost as high as possible in the South American single-seater ladder - only Formula Three remained above Formula Chevrolet - Massa opted to head for Europe for the 2000 season. Opting for a relatively low-key entrance, he contested the Italian and European Formula Renault series, before making the unusual jump into F3000 for 2001.
That moved proved to be a valuable one, however, as Massa dominated the secondary Euro F3000 category with the Draco Racing team, clinching the title with one round remaining.
His performances attracted the attention of noted talent scout Peter Sauber and, despite misgivings from other quarters, Massa was invited to test the Swiss team's F1 machine. Impressing with his pace - and the car control that was needed to tame his excesses behind the wheel - Massa was duly signed for the 2002 season.
Still only 20 years of age, the Brazilian made his grand prix debut at the Australian Grand Prix - and bounced back from retirement in Melbourne to score his first F1 points second time out at engine supplier Petronas' home race in Malaysia. Points finishes continued to come throughout the season, but were more often than not interspersed with accidents as Massa's exciting driving style frequently got the better of him. He was also dropped for the USGP as the result of having earned a ten-place grid penalty at Monza. As a result, Sauber decided not to renew his race contract for the following year, but accepted Ferrari's offer to take him on as a test driver, hoping that the driver would develop as much during 2003 as the Scuderia
's car would.
Against some expectations, Massa returned to the Sauber fold for 2004, signing a two-year deal to partner the experienced Giancarlo Fisichella. The Brazilian showed that he had lost little of his raw pace, but some of the rough edges had definitely been knocked off during his time at Maranello, and the Sauber pair were able to challenge for points at just about every race.
Massa recorded best finishes of fourth in Belgium and fifth in Monaco on his way to twelfth overall, while Sauber initially made a mockery of McLaren's better resources to run in the top half of the constructors' championship. The Swiss team eventually slipped back to sixth overall as the Woking team upped its game, but both Massa and Fisichella were looked on in a new light.
The Italian departed for an emotional reunion with Renault in 2005, while Massa remained at Hinwil for a third season, where he was partnered by 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve.
Massa though more than maintained his own alongside Villeneuve and early on in the season definitely had the edge. Although things evened out as the year went on, Massa ended the year with more two more points, 13th in the drivers' championship. He finished in the top eight on four occasions - seventh in Bahrain, fourth in Canada, eighth in Germany and sixth in China - and in total he managed to score 11 points.
Massa's big break though came in August '05, when Ferrari confirmed that Rubens Barrichello would be leaving the team - and that Massa would get the second seat alongside Michael Schumacher in 2006.
The new season promised much for the Brazilian and Massa was keen to exploit the opportunity and grab his first F1 podium.
Initially Felipe had a bit of a difficult start to the year, however as the season went on he managed to build up some real momentum, taking his first points finish for the Scuderia
in only his second race at Sepang and then grabbing his first top three finish in May at the European Grand Prix, when he brought his 248 F1 home in third place. After that he didn't really look back and from the start of July he really got into the grove, ending the year with six more podium finishes, including taking two wins - his first at the Turkish GP, which incidentally was his maiden triumph in F1 and his second at the season finale in his home country, Brazil. It was little surprise then that he took third place in the drivers' championship, with 80 points to his credit.
Massa had plenty to prove in 2007, with the chance to step out from Schumacher’s bold shadow and take on highly regarded team-mate Raikkonen.
However, as was the case in 2006, his season did not start well, with problems in Australia and Malaysia - mechanical and personal - already putting him several points adrift of Raikkonen and his McLaren rivals.
Perhaps embarrassed, Massa looked like a different driver in Bahrain and Spain, the Brazilian securing two easy lights-to-flag victories that hauled him back into contention, while podiums in Monaco, USA and France seemed to indicate a more consistent Massa was emerging from his rather over-exuberant reputation.
However, the Brazilian’s season was otherwise peppered by frustrating errors, particularly his driving through a red light in Canada that led to a disqualification, while stalling on the grid at Silverstone destroyed any hopes of a challenge for the win there.
Nonetheless, Massa also had the lion's share of bad luck at Ferrari - a refuelling error leaving him out of contention in Hungary, before mechanical retirement in Monza and a tyre error in Japan took away precious points.
The only one of the ‘big four’ that wasn’t in contention for the title at the season finale, fourth place was probably not a true reflection of Massa’s pace, which was often better than Raikkonen’s, especially in qualifying. With six pole positions and three wins - with a repeat in Turkey adding to those early successes in Bahrain and Spain - Massa showed he could be a more genuine title contender in 2008. And so it proved.
Crucially, the ’08 season began with Massa on the back foot following retirements in the first two races but, with the vultures circling amid rumours that he would be replaced by Fernando Alonso or Sébastien Vettel, the Brazilian bounced back with victories in Bahrain, Istanbul (again) and Magny-Cours - and found himself at the top of the standings.
A spin-laden British GP precipitated a tense championship battle with Lewis Hamilton that lasted until the final corner of the final lap of the final round in Brazil. While Massa produced a masterful mixed-conditions performance to win the race – the minimum he had to do – Hamilton snatched fifth place on the run to the flag to steal the title away.
Massa’s heart – and subsequent dignity in defeat – did much to endear him to the F1 public, and he headed into the winter as many people’s favourite to lead Ferrari’s charge for 2009 honours, his place in the team no longer in doubt.
With Raikkonen still alongside, the team was in for something of a shock, however, as its 2008 title push had diverted attention from adapting to the new 2009 regulations and, despite running with the supposed advantage of KERS, Massa found himself scrapping in the pre-season midfield – ironically with Hamilton still as an opponent. Unlike McLaren, however, the might of Maranello struggled to turn things around, with Massa failing to score until the campaign returned to Europe and team-mate Raikkonen only opening his account the race before.
Once on the board, however, Massa registered five straight points finishes, culminating in third place at the German GP, but his season was to come to an early - and dramatic - end next time out in Hungary. Midway through the qualifying session, a spring broke away from countryman Rubens Barrichello's Brawn GP entry and smashed into the Ferrari driver's helmet. Unconscious, Massa continued at barely abated speed into the barriers, where he received emergency medical attention. Airlifted to hospital in Budapest, the Brazilian remained in a critical condition, with fears over brain and eye injuries, for a couple of weeks, before beginning a slow - and remarkable - return to health.
Incredibly, the emergency surgery and subsequent procedures not only saved Massa's life, but also allowed him to return to the cockpit of an F1 car, with the Brazilian testing in readiness for a comeback before the end of the year, and then being confirmed alongside Fernando Alonso for 2010. The new F10 appeared to have learned from the mistakes of 2009's F60, and benefited from Ferrari's decision to can development of its predecessor, and was on the pace - in the hands of both
drivers - in testing. Hopes for one of the best comeback stories in F1 history, however, were to be tempered by Alonso's arrival at Maranello.
With the Spaniard quickly stamping his authority on the team, Massa was increasingly forced into a supporting role, despite opening the season with back-to-back podiums and briefly topping the standings. Elbowed aside by Alonso in the Shanghai pit-lane, the Brazilian's season was encapsulated in ten seconds of pit-to-car radio at Hockenheim, where the phrase 'Fernando is faster than you' entered F1 folklore. Dutifully moving aside for the Spaniard - and giving up what would have been an emotional victory on the anniversary of his Hungaroring shunt - Massa knew his season was as good as over. He eventually finished sixth in points, his tally of 144 fully 70 behind fifth-placed Jenson Button, bringing stinging criticism from team president Luca di Montezemolo.
Despite that, the Brazilian would be back in scarlet in 2011, again partnering Alonso, but knowing that he needed to be a match for his team-mate. His case wasn't helped by Ferrari producing a car that was no match for Red Bull, but Massa again failed to shine - or reach the podium. Indeed, his best result was fifth, something he managed six times, and his performances were well below those of Alonso, who wrestled the F150 Italia to results beyond expectation. Sixth overall was again to be Massa's lot, this time 109 points behind his nearest rival as he suffered a severe case of deja vu
The similarity extended to the annual slating from di Montezemolo, but Massa survived the onslaught to be confirmed for the final year of his contract, again partnering Alonso, who inked a long-term deal with the Scuderia during 2011. With his Ferrari future looking bleak, the 2012 season was more about Massa securing a place in F1 and, for much of the year, it appeared that the Brazilian was again facing the axe.
A decidedly lacklustre start to the campaign saw him fail to score until Bahrain and just four times in the opening ten rounds as Alonso shouldered the burden for the Scuderia, but the Brazilian bounced back just as he had in previous seasons, with a strong finish eventually earning him another stay of execution at Maranello.
From Hungary onwards, Massa was in the points at every race, returning to the podium for the first time in almost two years with second place in Japan and then taking an emotional third in front of his home crowd at Interlagos. From the depths of the drivers’ table, he rose to an eventual seventh overall, but will need to retain his second half form if he is to avoid a repeat of the task next season.