Despite having run Lewis Hamilton to within a point of the 2008 Formula 1 Drivers' World Championship, Felipe Massa still comes in for a good deal of unjustified criticism amongst paddock observers - that is the view of former grand prix star Johnny Herbert.

Massa and Hamilton duelled tooth-and-nail for the coveted honours last year, and though the Brazilian in the end came up just short - at the close of a truly nail-biting finale to the campaign in front of his adoring home fans in Brazil - he went down fighting, doing all he could possibly do in dominating the race around Interlagos' Autodromo Carlos Pace as Hamilton trailed in fifth, enough to pinch the crown by a solitary marker.

There has since been much debate about whether the right man ultimately prevailed, and whilst Herbert contends that Hamilton did deserve the title, he maintains that were it to have gone to the driver who made fewer actual errors, it would have gone Massa's way.

"At the end of the day I think the right guy did win," the former British, Italian and European Grand Prix winner told Radio, "with everything that went on. He left it late, but he did everything he needed to do.

"In 2007 it was a shame for Lewis, because I think the team let him down. He had the inexperience, but the team could have helped him in China where he should have won; they should have brought him in way earlier, five or six laps before they did - I really don't understand why they didn't do that.

"Yes, he had his problems in Brazil too, but that was because he was under a lot of pressure. It was a big difference to anything he had ever had before, and maybe you could say he couldn't quite cope with it.

"In 2008 he was up-and-down, and he's admitted he needs to be more consistent. If you put the two of them together and see who made fewer mistakes, it was Felipe. He got let down by Ferrari, like in Singapore, and earlier in the year he had a few breakages and non-finishes due to the team, whereas Lewis made more mistakes by himself."

Not only did Massa triumph on more occasions than any other driver in 2008 - six - he also proved to be the season's undisputed qualifying king, with the lowest average grid position to his name of any driver, and left defending F1 World Champion Ferrari team-mate Kimi Raikkonen quite literally trailing in his wheeltracks.

"You have to give Felipe credit," inaugural Speedcar Series Champion Herbert argued, "for the way he kept banging in the wins, because that was the only thing he could do. He needed to win in Brazil, and then it was really down to what Lewis did.

"To come that close was pretty heart-breaking really and quite emotional for him. I hope Felipe does get another chance, because he deserves it. He gets criticised very unfairly I think, because he's done a stunning job.

"I don't know where Kimi's gone - he's just disappeared. I think his brain's still in Scandinavia somewhere! I was very shocked by his season. Felipe, though, was just there all the time, and it was the most consistent year he's ever had. He was very good."

by Russell Atkins