Massa vows to come back this year

Brazilian plots ambitious return as Schumacher takes old Ferrari for a test drive
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The Independent Online

If Felipe Massa has his way, Ferrari might not need Michael Schumacher as their saviour and his stand-in in the European Grand Prix in Valencia later this month. The injured Brazilian and the super-successful veteran, who were team-mates at Ferrari in 2006, have just begun an off-track race to fitness to claim the seat.

Just as "Schumania" began to spool up to its old level at the prospect of the 40-year-old seven-times champion donning helmet and overalls again to ride to Ferrari's rescue for the rest of the year, Massa has threatened to throw a spanner in the works.

The 28-year-old Brazilian was injured in qualifying for the Hungarian Grand Prix in Budapest last Saturday, and was expected to sit out the rest of the season after sustaining two skull fractures when he was struck on the left side of the head at very high speed by a spring that had detached itself from Rubens Barrichello's Brawn.

However, Massa has stunned doctors in Budapest's AEK military hospital with the speed of his recovery, and his personal doctor, Dino Altmann, reported that when told about Schumacher, Massa joked with friends and his brother Eduardo: "Let's see if I let him drive the car in Valencia, because I won't give up."

Schumacher might not yet have got his hands on Massa's car, but he did get them on the Brazilian's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen's – his 2007 title-winning model, to be precise.

The rules do not permit teams to test during the season, but typically Schumacher has found a way to bypass that little legality. Having reacclimatised to the controls of a Formula One car in Ferrari's static simulator, he yesterday tested a Ferrari F2007 at the company's Mugello circuit in Italy and is reported to have posted competitive lap times.

"There is this test ban in Formula One, so therefore I contacted some of the guys from F1 Clienti if they could give me a car," Schumacher said, referring to Ferrari's customer driving club.

"Although those cars are not current or last year's ones, I simply like to drive as much as possible, so this is a good option. The next weeks will be totally on preparation then."

Massa will be flown home to Brazil by private plane on Monday, Altmann said.

"Felipe continues to improve. He is eating, he was walking around the room, he took a shower in the morning, like a normal person. So that's good news. And as I have said before, there is no problem with his eye. It's OK. He is eating normal food. Today in the morning he had a normal breakfast, some yoghurt with nutritional complements, bread, cheese, tomato, and he also had a banana. He had some chicken later.

"There is no need now for any special treatments for his rehabilitation process, he just has to get stronger."

Altmann said he could not offer a timescale for Massa's return to the cockpit, but said he was sure it would happen.

"It's the only thing he is thinking about. It's his fixed idea. He has no fears at all. He thinks he would be able to race in Valencia."

Altmann would not comment on that idea, but added: "He continues to improve, he is doing very well, and we already decided to go back home on Monday to Brazil."

The doctor was at odds with the suggestion by Professor Gérard Saillant, deputy president of the FIA Institution, that Massa be flown to his specialist clinic in Paris for further tests and observation, and said: "He has to continue his recovery and get back racing as soon as possible, that's the plan. No special treatment. He is in a very good mood, he is in good shape. He wants to come back soon."

The organisers in Valencia are facing a ticket disaster, with only 30,000 reportedly pre-sold at this stage. Local hero Fernando Alonso is likely to miss the race if Renault's appeal against suspension after a loose wheel incident in Hungary is upheld in Paris on 17 August.

While the return of Massa would be a good story, the organisers believe that the return of Michael Schumacher would be an even greater one.