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Felipe Massa

Felipe MassaDate of birth: 25/4/1981
Place of birth: São Paulo, Brazil

First race: 2002 Australian GP
Previous team(s): Sauber
Current team: Scuderia Ferrari
Current car number: 7

Highest championship position: 2nd (2008)
Wins: 11
Podiums: 28
Career points: 320
Pole positions: 15
Fastest laps: 12

The beginning

Like most professional drivers, Felipe started in karts. He made his karting debut at the age of eight years old in 1990 and finished fourth in his first season.

It wasn’t until 1998 that he would make his single-seater debut and in his rookie year he ended the Brazilian championship in an impressive fifth place. A year later he would take the crown.

In the new millennium Felipe switched his racing to Europe where he would win both the Italian and European Formula Renault championship that same year.

He dominated the Euro F3000 series taking 6 wins from 8 rounds, this inevitably creating him champion.

F1 rookie years

The many titles enabled Felipe to get a foot in the door and in 2001  he was offered a test with the Sauber Petronas F1 team at Mugello. The test was enough and Sauber believed he had once again spotted a talent and so the Brazilian was signed for the 2002 season.  His best result of the season would be 5th at the Spanish Grand Prix (Circuit de Catalyuna). In his first F1 season he managed to achieve 4 championship points but Sauber would give the seat to Frentzen for 03 and Massa was left without a drive.

A deal was done however and it was agreed that Felipe would transfer to Sauber’s engine suppliers – Ferrari – as a test driver for one year.

Massa then was re-signed by his old team Sauber for 2004. It was clear the time at Ferrari had done him the world of good; he tripled his points from his first season and an impressive fourth place at the Belgian Grand Prix. He was beaten by the more experienced Fisichella but the potential he showed was enough to keep him in the seat.

2005 was a difficult year for the team but Felipe was often quicker than his teammate and former World Champion Jacques Villeneuve and beat his teammate at his home Grand Prix and his season’s best finish with 4th. For the first time Massa was the biggest point scorer for the team.

Ferrari

For 2006 Massa was to rejoin the Italian outfit but this time he wouldn’t be a tester, he would be racing for them. Many agreed that he had talent but that he had done little to gain a cockpit of arguably the best team in Formula One.

However, he got off to a flying start qualifying in P2 at the season opener in Bahrain and storming the field from 21st to 5th in Malaysia, finishing ahead of Schumacher. He had 7 podium finishes that year including his first win at Turkey and a spetacular second win at his home Grand Prix in Interlagos.

Speculation surrounded Ferrari with it being believed Raikkonen was headed to the team but Massa’s seat was safe when Michael Schumacher announced his retirement.

The 07 season did not get off to the best start. In Australia he suffered from gearbox issues and required an engine change both of which meant he started in 22nd position. His one stop strategy worked well and he finished 6th. In Malaysia he did start from pole but his own errors cost him the race win. He was black flagged in Canada for ignoring the red light in the pit lane but in Britain he started at the back and rampaged home an impressive 5th place. Massa’s season never really took shape; whenever he seemed to find his feet he either made an error or had a mechanical issue. This was epitomised at the European GP when Massa survived torrential conditions but just before the end suffered from tyre vibrations and lost the lead or at the Hungaroring when Massa had refuelling issues at qualifying and then a terrible performance on the day leaving the Brazilian to call it the ‘worst race’ of his whole career.

By the final round Felipe was well out of contention but helped his teammate to claim the championship when after a fine drive he relinquished the lead to Kimi at Interlagos and Raikkonen was crown champion of 2007.

2008 didn’t get off to a much better start either. The season opener started with Ferrari looking somewhat off the pace, Felipe spinning at the first corner and ended with engine failure. A chance at victory was lost at Malaysia due to another spin and people began to wonder if he really had left his ‘wild boy’ days behind him.

Massa took control of the situation at Bahrain claiming his first victory of the season (he beat Kubica who was on pole to the first corner and never looked like losing the race).  He would win Turkey for the 3rd consecutive time.

At Monaco Felipe delivered the pole position at a track that he usually dreaded. He could only manage 3rd in the race thanks to Hamilton’s one-stop strategy and when he left it too late to put on dry tyres he lost out to Robert Kubica too.

At the Canadian GP after a safety car and refuelling issues he had to stage a fight back and after a tough race finished 5th. He took the win in France and the lead in the standings making him the first Brazilian to lead the championship since Senna in 1993.

In the wet weather at Britain Massa span so many times that it was a surprise he knew which way the track went. The championship was now in a 3 way tie at 48 points (Massa, Hamilton and Raikkonen with Kubica two points behind).

Massa in typical style dominated Hungary only for his engine to blow up three laps before the end leaving him devastated. In Europe he showed blistering pace again and took the win of the inaugural GP at Valencia. That weekend also made him the only driver in history to win at his 100th race.

Massa would win the Belgian Grand Prix when Hamilton was disqualified. His next win looked like it would come at Singapore when he beat Hamilton’s time by sixth tenths to pole and led the race but after 14 laps the safety car came out after Nelson Piquet crashed out. Massa went in to pit after the safety car but due to the busy pitlane Ferrari were manually operating their traffic light system and told Felipe to leave too soon, so he took his fuel rig with him and had to stop and wait for it to be pulled off at the end of the pits – a joy for the nearby McLaren mechanics to watch – and the win was gone.

At Japan and China Felipe could not get to the top step of the podium and particularly at Shanghai seemed mysteriously off the boil. He scored a second place though, courtesy of Kimi Raikkonen, who paid back the favour of the previous year.

He entered the final round as the underdog and needed Lewis to finish outside of the top 5.  Massa got the best possible start with pole and despite the changing conditions he was always going to win the race but the championship was still up for grabs. The rain came and as Felipe crossed the line Hamilton was down in 6th and so he started to celebrate thinking the title was his. But on the final corner Hamilton passed a slow Glock (who was on dry tyres) and the Briton took the crown.

Massa after the heartbreaking 2008 finale

Massa after the heartbreaking 2008 finale

For 2009 Ferrari were completely off the pace with the F60. His best performance was China where down in 13th he rose to 4th and a podium looked possible but then electrical problems led to retirement.

The Spanish GP saw Ferrari bring updates and they seemed to work; Massa held 3rd for the majority of the race but computer troubles saying Massa had less fuel than he did meant that conserving fuel was priority and he lost places to Vettel and Alonso.

At Monaco there was a 4th place but finally Massa was on the podium with a 3rd place at Germany. Massa seemed to have all the momentum but during qualifying at Hungary a spring would break from Barrichello’s car and Massa was struck on the helmet.  An unconscious Massa could do little to avoid crashing into the tyre barrier. Felipe was airlifted to hospital and he underwent surgery. His situation at one point was described as ‘life threatening’ but Felipe has recovered well and quickly and will race again for Ferrari in the 2010 season.

What to expect from 2010

Massa will be returning to the cockpit after a serious head trauma so it is hard to know if he will be same driver who was so nearly champion.  He has made a karting comeback and with positive results (he beat Michael Schumacher in one race), it will be a world away from F1 in terms of speed but karting is regarded as the next best thing to the elite series in terms of physical demand.

Felipe will be desperate to get a win under his belt just to show he can. Ferrari also have Alonso joining the squad and although Felipe was enough to give champion Raikkonen a hard time, Alonso is regarded as the best on the grid right now so he will have to raise his game.

There will be further pressure to as Felipe’s contract is up at the end of the season. He has been a good fit so far but if he isn’t up to scratch or there is a major falling out with Fernando then he will have to go in hunt of another drive.

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