Felipe Massa looked every inch a man reborn yesterday; leaner, fitter and hungrier than ever as Ferrari unveiled the car on which he is pinning his hopes of winning the Formula One world championship he believes he was cheated out of by Renault's race-fixing in 2008.
Last July, the 28 year-old Brazilian lay in a coma in Hungary after being struck just above the left eye by a spring from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn. In the weeks that followed he had a series of operations as fears for the sight of that eye slowly receded.
None of that was evident yesterday. Bursting with enthusiasm after a recent test run in a 2008 Ferrari, Massa spoke of his feelings about coming back to the sport that nearly killed him. "This is a special moment," he said, "because last year was very difficult as I had the accident and everything else that happened. I'm very proud, very happy, and I now want to work more than ever, so I really hope this will be a very competitive car and we will be fighting for the championship." Massa, who became a father for the first time in November, added: "We have another baby that arrived today. Now we've got to make it grow."
Team principal Stefano Domenicali spoke of two new drivers, while alluding to new recruit Fernando Alonso. "Why two? Because we are talking of a new version of Felipe. He has all the assets to prove he can be very successful, that he wants to return to the pathway that destiny interrupted."
Ferrari's quest for redemption following an appalling 2009 season has not been made easier by employing two drivers with a history of on- and off-track altercations. They run a similar risk to McLaren, with two strong characters likely to take points from one another, while Michael Schumacher scores for Mercedes, and Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo admitted wryly: "I am this misdeed's author. It was me who awoke Michael's desire to come back, and honestly I never thought I'd see him in a race car that wasn't a Ferrari."
Domenicali conceded: "This season is very important for us. The last championship, for different reasons, was not very positive. But now we are dealing with this one, looking to be competitive. This is what Ferrari deserves to be. Fernando is a double world champion, and we say he will have a third one."
The Spaniard, still detested at McLaren for his divisive season with Lewis Hamilton, spoke of his own deep feelings as he joined from Renault, to whom he had returned after the McLaren debacle. "This is my first presentation with Ferrari which is emotional for me," he said. "We are ready to face the challenge and take up the responsibility of realising the maximum potential of this car. Felipe and I will be a very strong team."
Hamilton's father Anthony has announced plans to create a new academy which will bypass testing restrictions and enable rookie F1 drivers to gain mileage before making their race debuts. Last year the 19-year-old Jaime Algersuari had not driven a lap before he raced with Toro Rosso in Hungary.