Felipe Massa: 'If I'm in the same position this weekend I will win'
Tomorrow Felipe Massa races at Hungaroring, scene of last year's horrific accident, but first, the Brazilian tells David Tremayne, he must confront Ferrari's 'team orders' controversy
Saturday 31 July 2010
This has been a chastening month for Brazilian sport. Back home they don't stand for World Cup failure and they certainly don't hold with their racing drivers playing second fiddle to anyone.
Felipe Massa cut a weary figure yesterday. His reputation in his homeland has taken a battering in the wake of his decision to apparently bow to Ferrari team orders and let Fernando Alonso snatch victory in Germany last week. For Formula One matters to Brazilians. It is part of the identity of a nation weaned on the trail-blazing success of Emerson Fittipaldi, their first champion, and the subsequent triple-crown triumphs of Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna.
It is one of the reasons why Rubens Barrichello has never been accorded the respect his predecessors enjoy; not because he has never been champion but because he was seen to be Michael Schumacher's stooge in their years together at... Ferrari.
In 2007, in his home race in Brazil, Massa subjugated his own chances of a second victory in front of his (then) adoring countrymen, and let Kimi Raikkonen by so that the Finn could beat Lewis Hamilton and McLaren to the world championship. But by then he had no chance in the title chase, so his behaviour was deemed honourable. With eight races still to run, 2010 is very different.
After his accident here at Hungaroring, 12 months to the day before that moment of bitter despair at Hockenheim, Ferrari did everything they could to help him back on his feet. Massa responded by coming back with a desire, admittedly unfulfilled in terms of results, to be stronger than ever. But now damage has been done. "This week people in Brazil have been talking about changing their Santander bank accounts, no longer buying Fiats," the radio commentator Felipe Motta said. "The feeling is that by letting Alonso overtake, Felipe dishonoured his country. I tell you, it's serious."
"The time when I say I am No 2 driver I will not race any more," responds Massa. "For sure it makes me even stronger. And I will always do everything I can for my country. For me my country is the most important thing. For sure, I have already proved many times in my life, in my career, what I'm able to do for my country. Definitely whoever is thinking like that is completely wrong. I'm doing everything I can, I will always do everything I can for my country. It's the most important thing for me, because it's my home."
He claims that if the Scuderia are enjoying another one-two he will not give way a second time. "I've spoken to everybody inside the team. I'm not here just to race, I'm here to win. That's really my point," he asserts. "As long as I am in the condition to win, we need to go to the end, to fight for victory. As long as the condition is different then I definitely want the best for the team. I work for the team, I'm professional and I think everybody needs to understand my point. There's no real point in going back to last weekend. We need to think about the present. I think we have spoken a lot about what's happened in the last race. So yes, I will fight for victory here in whatever conditions. If I'm in the same situation this weekend, I will win."
The fall-out has compounded Massa's misery, at a time when he seemed to be getting his act together. Hockenheim was the first time he has led a race since his accident in qualifying in Hungary last year, when he was knocked unconscious after being hit on the head by a spring that had detached itself from Barrichello's Brawn. He was put into an induced coma for a week and upon waking immediately started talking of a return by the European Grand Prix in Valencia in August.
He began by testing in the Ferrari simulator. Then over the winter he tested a real Ferrari again. He says he has had no lingering after-effects. "I just got straight back in. Everything was straight away normal, in terms of the vibrations, the braking, physically."
That was the point at which he knew he was OK. But was there ever pressure on him from his family to stop? He gives one of his dark, boyish smiles. "No, because they know me. For sure, for Raffaela [his wife], it would have been better for me to stop, maybe for my family, as well. But then when they saw that everything was going back normally, they know they cannot say anything. Even if they tell me to stop, they know I will laugh. If I feel well – and I was feeling well – I will never stop. I have to say that Valencia was not the right thinking, but when I understood what happened to me I knew, OK, we need to wait a little bit, otherwise it will be too risky."
Raffaela Massa was heavily pregnant with their son Felipe, aka Felipinho, but Massa says that the subsequent birth of his son was a boost, not a hindrance. "It helped, a lot."
His face lights up as he talks of him. Now almost eight months old, he is a dead ringer for his proud father. "It's just like an incredible present to you. A feeling you never thought of before. You never think that a child will give you so much. You know what I'm talking about, you have children... It just makes you even stronger inside, a new sense of purpose that you are doing something for somebody else. And it just gets better for me every month."
He reaches for his mobile phone and immediately flicks up photos that he wants to share.
So he came back to racing, and though this year was tough initially, he says in his heart he knows that he is driving as well as ever. "The start was great" – he finished second in the season-opener in Bahrain where Alonso did what former team-mate Raikkonen had done, winning on his debut for Ferrari – "but then it was not great. I think we saw our competitors getting a little bit better after the first race, race by race."
In China, the year's fourth outing, Alonso showed his intentions when he barged ahead of him, overtaking as they went into the pit lane. But Massa's biggest problem was with Bridgestone's latest hard compound tyres. "In the cold weather I have been finding it always difficult to warm them up," he admits.
Alonso and Massa have different chassis set-ups at times, but Massa believes the biggest difference is in their driving style. "It's not that the braking point is different, but when he is arriving to the corner he has a very aggressive style on the steering wheel. He always goes completely like this" – he indicates a sudden, jerking twist of the wheel as if throwing the car at the corner – "and by this he is warming up the tyres more. I've tried it, but I can't make it work."
He said without guile before Hockenheim that his relationship with the third fast team-mate of his Ferrari career – the others being Schumacher and Raikkonen – was "OK" and denied that Alonso's early success had put him under any extra personal pressure. "When you race for Ferrari, and it's many years that I'm here, you always have a very good team-mate. You know you need to do your job 100 per cent. Nothing changed with him compared to what it was in the past, nothing changed."
Nor does he believe that Alonso's modus operandi is particularly different to that of Schumacher or Raikkonen. "I think everybody was working a lot, with the engineers and the team. He speaks more, because he's Latin, more open." It could hardly be possible not to speak more than Raikkonen did.
Massa's modus operandi, however, appears to work better with a dose of anger – not hard to come by in a season that has included more than his fair share of bad fortune. In Canada he collided – three times – in the first corner with Force India's Tonio Liuzzi, then drove the rest of the race in a red mist that saw him the first man to break into a lap of 1min 19sec after a pit stop for repairs at the end of the opening lap. It moved even his closest ally, race engineer Rob Smedley, to ask why he hadn't produced such laps in qualifying. "Because I couldn't do a good lap, I didn't do my lap in the perfect way," he admits. "In the race I was pissed off. Let's go, see what we can do. It was good to see when I was gaining positions."
Then Schumacher damaged his front wing just when Massa was challenging for points. "I was disappointed because he pushed me out," he confesses. "I was pissed off for the whole race, because what happened at the start was the worst, but what happened at the end for sure was not nice. We spoke after the race, and he said sorry." He breaks into a laugh. "But he said it in a good way."
In Valencia he and Alonso lost out when the safety car was deployed. Massa dropped from a challenging fourth, in his team-mate's wheeltracks, to 19th. "Yeah, veeery unlucky! Some of these fights are what can happen when you have sport. OK, it's something that is part of our mentality. But what happened in Valencia... You go out of the last corner and you see the safety car, and then you see everybody going to the pits and then going past you..."
Alonso was instantly on the radio, complaining that Hamilton had overtaken the safety car, but while Massa seemed much calmer, much more phlegmatic in accepting it, he admits that he was just as vocal. "It annoyed me and I was also complaining a lot. But sure you have to get over it. What are you going to do? You just think ahead to the next race... You can never go back."
That has become his mantra in the aftermath of Hockenheim, as he has fought off suggestions that he is now the No 2 driver at Ferrari. He has always said that he's looking forward to racing for victory here, but it is clear that his attitude has hardened since last weekend. Purely for championship points, it makes sense for Ferrari to back Alonso, who has the stronger chance of the title with 123 points to his 85 and eight races still to go.
It remains to be seen whether Massa can rebuild things. Perhaps a win here tomorrow might help him to restore his countrymen's faith. It would be a tragedy if his image should suffer permanently in his homeland because of the win-at-all-costs mentality of his own team-mate.
But worse than that, Ferrari are his second family and sources close to him say that he feels a very deep sense of betrayal. An honourable and dignified man surely deserves better.
The season so far for the Ferrari team-mates
Alonso 1st (25points)
Massa 2nd (18pt)
Alonso 4th (12pt)
Massa 3rd (15pt)
Alonso 13th (0pt)
Massa 7th (6pt)
Alonso 4th (12pt)
Massa 9th (2pt)
Alonso 2nd (18pt)
Massa 6th (8pt)
Alonso 6th (8pt)
Massa 4th (12pt)
Alonso 8th (4pt)
Massa 7th (6pt)
Alonso 3rd (15pt)
Massa 15th (0pt)
Alonso 8th (4pt)
Massa 11th (0pt)
Alonso 14th (0pt)
Massa 15th (0pt)
Alonso 1st (25 points)
Massa 2nd (18pt)
Brazil's racing tradition
Ayrton Senna (1984-1994)
Three world titles (1988, 1990, 1991)
Seen by many as the best driver of all time, Senna possessed a natural talent that often made a mockery of the F1 field. He won 41 of his 162 races, a win percentage (25.31 per cent) bettered only by Schumacher and Prost.
Nelson Piquet (1978-1991)
Three world titles (1981, 1983, 1987)
The outspoken driver won the title in his fourth season, with Brabham. A second title followed two years later before Piquet moved to Williams in 1986 to link up with Nigel Mansell. The pair enjoyed some memorable battles, with Piquet emerging triumphant for a third title in 1987.
Emerson Fittipaldi (1970-1980)
Two world titles (1972, 1974)
Fittipaldi became the third youngest F1 champion at the age of 25 in 1972. Finished in the top two in first four seasons before leaving McLaren in 1975.
Rubens Barrichello (1993- )
Best performance: 2nd (2002, 2004)
Accrued the highest amounts of career points (636) of a non-champion. Still racing in F1 – at the age of 38 – for Williams this season. Tomorrow's Hungarian GP will be his 300th race, a record.
Felipe Massa (2002- )
Best performance: 2nd (2008)
Was world champion for the best part of a lap in 2008, until Lewis Hamilton overtook Timo Glock on the last corner.
Felipe Massa: In his own words
On returning to the track after his accident
'I just got straight back in. Everything was straight away normal in terms of the vibrations, the braking, physically'
On the effects of fatherhood
'It makes you stronger inside, a new sense of purpose that you are doing something for somebody. And it just gets better for me every month'
On his relationship with Ferrari
'I've spoken to everyone inside the team. I'm not here just to race, I'm here to win. That's really my point'
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