The good, the bad and the ugly: Felipe Massa

Date published: April 18 2020

Felipe Massa

The good, the bad and the ugly series takes a look back over the defining moments of some of the biggest names to race in Formula 1.

Next under the microscope is a driver whose Formula 1 career spanned 15 seasons and 272 race entries which oh so very nearly resulted in a World Championship trophy. It is, of course, Felipe Massa.

The Good

Cast your mind back to the 2006 season finale at Interlagos and, unless you are a Brazilian native, your first thoughts will probably be Michael Schumacher’s defiant display in his final race for Ferrari and Fernando Alonso’s successful title defence against the seven-time World Champion.

It is only after then that your attention turns to Felipe Massa becoming the first Brazilian driver since Ayrton Senna in 1993 to win his home race. His animated response as he passed the finish line, the crowd going crazy, the marshals rushing across at the Senna Esses to give him a Brazilian flag to proudly wave from his cockpit.

It was one of the first of many emotional moments throughout Massa’s Formula 1 career and also the very first of many that would just so happen to take place in his home city. Yet that day would be a career defining one: for all of his achievements in a career that most F1 drivers would be immensely proud to have, it was ultimately overshadowed by others able to attain even greater glory.

But that is not to say that Felipe Massa is an average driver as a result of that assessment. Far from it. He had the ability the stamp his authority on a race weekend, too, just like the very best drivers could. Out of Massa’s 11 career victories, seven of them came from pole position.

You also don’t have the privilege of wearing Scuderia red for eight seasons and rank third behind Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen on the all-time Ferrari appearance list if you don’t possess the quality and the character that all team bosses crave.

His character also played a huge part in helping his career last as long it did. He showed courage. He showed dignity. He showed respect. Ask anyone in the Formula 1 paddock about Felipe Massa and you will struggle to find a bad word said about him.

The Bad

For Felipe Massa, ‘bad’ has a different context. ‘Bad’ is the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix where the hometown hero was Formula 1 World Champion for all of 39 seconds.

Lewis Hamilton needed to finish just P5 or better in the final race of an absolutely thrilling campaign but, as the rain began to fall and with Massa in the lead, the McLaren driver, who had pitted early for intermediates was passed by Sebastian Vettel and fell to P6.

As Massa passed the finish line with P1 in the bag, the sea of fans clad in Ferrari red and Brazilian green and gold rose as one ferocious wave, there was sheer euphoria in the Ferrari garage…there was then sudden, jolting heartbreak.

We all know what followed next…those three words by commentator Martin Brundle that have become immortalised: “Is that Glock?!”

Hamilton had closed down the struggling Toyota driver at the very last second to re-take P5 and clinch his first World Championship title.

The shots of a crestfallen Massa in floods of tears inside his Ferrari car and the memory of his defiant beating of the chest as he made his way onto the podium are woven into the very fabric of what makes Formula 1 special. It provides the rawest of raw emotion.

The pride and class that Massa showed on the day gave him even more fans for life.

“It was hard, definitely,” Massa said as he relived the drama 10 years on with Formula 1’s ‘Beyond the Grid’ podcast.

“But I did an amazing job. I didn’t make any mistake in that race. If you make a mistake [to lose a title] then I would have felt it even more.

“[After the race] I just spoke with what my heart was telling me to do.”

While perhaps the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix is remembered as the defining ‘bad’ of Massa’s career, arguably the more damaging moments that denied him the elusive World title was the engine failure when leading the Hungarian Grand Prix with  three laps to go or the premature pit release with the fuel hose still attached in when leading in Singapore.

The Ugly

The following year, Budapest would also provide the scene for the ugliest moment of Massa’s career when he was struck on the head at 162mph by a 700g suspension spring that came off the car of his good friend and compatriot, Rubens Barrichello, during qualifying.

The freak accident saw him hurtle head-on into the tyre barriers and left with a fractured skull. At the time, there were fears over whether Massa would make it through alive.

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2009 -2019 . Thank you God 🙏🏻❤️

A post shared by Felipe Massa (@massafelipe19) on

After such a scary life experience, it would have been completely understandable if Massa had called time on his Formula 1 career, especially after recently becoming a father at the time. But, for him, it had the complete opposite effect as he prepared to return to action the very next season.

“When I am driving the car now I don’t even remember that I had an accident and I don’t remember that I have a son,” Massa said in an interview with The Independent.

“When I stop in the garage and look in the mirror I can see that I had the accident because I can see the scar over my eye, and then for sure I remember about my son. But these things give experience to my life, motivation to keep going.”

He was, in fact, back behind the wheel just two-and-a-half-months after the accident as he came through a private test with Ferrari with flying colours.

If you were ever unsure of Massa’s fighting spirit and tenacity then let his reaction following the test be a lasting reminder:

“I can tell you I’m back to the same driver I was before the accident. I’m the same bastard as before!”

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