Born: 25th April 1981
Birthplace: Sao Paulo, Brazil
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Felipe Massa won both the Italian and European Formula Renault championships in 2000 – taking the former despite having missed two races.
Massa was the European Formula 3000 champion and Peter Sauber snapped him up for 2002. Massa’s first season saw a lot of mistakes and following a collision with Pedro de la Rosa in the Italian Grand Prix Sauber kept him out of the cockpit for one race – his seat taken by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, who would replace Massa at the team for 2003.
But Massa scored a major coup by landing a Ferrari testing deal for 2003, courtesy of his manager Nicolas Todt, son of Ferrari boss Jean Todt. Massa developed not only the car but also his driving style, modelling himself on Michael Schumacher who won his sixth championship that year with Ferrari.
Massa returned to Sauber in 2004 with a lot more polish in his driving and started to deliver from results. He finished fourth at Spa after a memorable tussle with Juan Pablo Montoya, and qualifyied fourth at Shanghai and Interlagos in the closing stages of the season.
Although Massa was roundly beaten by more experienced team mate Giancarlo Fisichella, Massa remained with the team for 2005 as Fisichella moved to Renault. Jacques Villeneuve joined Massa at the team and the pair scored a fourth place apiece as their best results of the year , with Massa slightly ahead on points, 11-9.
With his fellow Brazilian Rubens Barrichello leaving Ferrari at the end of the year Massa joined Schumacher as race driver. The move confirmed the suspicions of many that Schumacher did not want a driver of comparable ability to his own in the second Ferrari, and the first half of 2006 seemed to support the widely held belief that Massa was out of his depth.
At Bahrain, Massa spun off while chasing Alonso. He crashed at Melbourne and in qualifying at Monte-Carlo. But in the second half of the year it all came together: Massa won from pole at Istanbul and repeated the feat at home.
Schumacher left the team for 2007 and Massa would share joint team leader status with Kimi Raikkonen. at the end of the year Raikkonen was champion and Massa was fourth, but the gap between the two was only 16 points.
Massa showed great speed when leading from the front (Bahrain, Barcelona, Istanbul) but in wheel-to-wheel racing he was clearly still giving away something to his rivals. Lewis Hamilton tricked Massa into out-braking himself off the road at Malaysia, and Fernando Alonso stole victory from him late in the European Grand Prix – Massa risking contact with Alonso and earning a stern rebuke from his rival afterwards.
By the final race Massa was out of the hunt for the championship and surrendered the lead of his home race to Raikkonen so his team mate could be champion.
Against expectations, Massa and Raikkonen’s roles were reversed in 2008. Massa won six times – with two inherited victories at Magny-Cours and Spa balanced out by two likely wins lost at the Hungaroring and Singapore.
Massa out-qualified and out-raced Raikkonen, and at the moment he crossed the finishing line at the final race it looked like he would become champion as well. In a cruel twist, Hamilton passed Timo Glock’s stricken Toyota on the final champion to deny Massa a home title win. Massa’s dignified reaction in defeat won him much admiration.
The next season began poorly for Massa as the new F60 proved unreliable as well as slow to begin with. Once the car improved Massa began regularly scoring top-six finishes – but at Hungary his season took a shocking twist.
During qualifying a spring fell off the back of Rubens Barrichello’s car. Massa was the next driver on the scene and, with incredible misfortune, took a blow to the head when the spring hit his crash helmet.
Massa’s car then slammed into a barrier on the outside of the circuit. He was airlifted to hospital and a tense few days followed as the world waited to hear of his condition. Eventually, good news began to trickle through. His season was over, but he would race again
Massa returned to the cockpit in 2010 with new team mate Fernando Alonso. But he endured a difficult season.
All year young Alonso had the edge on him in qualifying and the races. In Germany, exactly one year to the day since his Hungaroring crash, Massa snuck into the lead at the start and kept Alonso behind.
Alonso couldn’t find a way past, but a few laps from home the team intervened, ordering Massa to let Alonso past. He complied, sacrificing what would have been his only win of the year.
Two more podium finishes, at Monza and Korea, were small consolation. At Japan he smashed into Vitantonio Liuzzi on the first lap and ended the year with a low-key run to tenth in Abu Dhabi.
Despite another poor season in 2011, Ferrari retained Massa for another season. He had several collisions with Hamilton, most of which the McLaren driver shouldered the blame for.
While Alonso won once and finished on the podium ten times, Massa never finished higher than fifth.
Massa did not cope as well with the shortcomings of the F2012 as well as Alonso did. While his team mate made a serious bid for the title, Massa seemed more lost than ever in the opening part of the season.
There was clearly doubt over his future at the team as the decision on whether to retain him was postponed until late in the season. Eventually Massa began to turn things around. At Japan he ended his podium drought – the longest a Ferrari driver ever endured – partly thanks to a first-lap collision.
But in later races there was evidence that Massa was back to the race. In the penultimate two races he even out-paced Alonso in qualifying and the race.
Inevitably this meant he had to make more sacrifices to help his team mate. In America Ferrari deliberately incurred a gearbox change penalty on Massa’s car to help move Alonso up the grid, and in the season finale he waved Alonso by into second place but was at least able to stand on the podium before his home crowd once more.
Felipe Massa 2013 helmet
Images (C) Ferrari spa