I’d wager that a large number of Formula 1 fans enjoyed home hero Felipe Massa’s emotional podium finish in yesterday’s Brazilian Grand Prix. I’d certainly count myself among them.
While the Mercedes Silver Arrows hit another bullseye with their record-breaking 11th one-two finish of the season, Massa recovered from two set-backs – a five-second penalty for speeding in the pitlane and further time loss after mistakenly stopping in the McLaren pit later on – to take third for Williams.
“Post-accident, Massa’s four years alongside Fernando Alonso at Maranello yielded very little and the detractors, including me, stuck the knife in…”
And the cheers for the amiable 33-year-old Sao Paulista’s arrival on the podium (that drowned out those for Merc duo Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton) made for one of the biggest feel-good moments of the season – particularly with the sort of month the sport has just endured.
Fans still recall fondly the time, at the mighty Interlagos circuit in Massa’s home city, when he became world champion – for a few seconds – in the dying moments of the 2008 Brazilian GP. His emotionally dignified stance on the top step of the podium after dominating in the rain only to lose out to Lewis Hamilton, who snatched fifth place on the final lap to take the title, forever endeared him to all who saw it.
I’ll admit that after his nasty shunt in 2009, when he was hit in the head by a suspension part from a car he was following – cruelly that of fellow Brazilian and friend Rubens Barrichello – during qualifying in Hungary, I thought he’d never be quite the same again.
Certainly, it looked like we wouldn’t be getting the same Felipe Massa who’d occasionally beaten Michael Schumacher in a straight fight at Ferrari, then overshadowed world champion Kimi Raikkonen at the Scuderia during that stunning 2008 season. Post-accident, his four years alongside Fernando Alonso at Maranello yielded very little and the detractors, including me, stuck the knife in.
And then he joined Williams – that real-racer’s team, where he quickly embraced its legendary fighting spirit and apolitical approach. Armed with the effective FW36, complete with benchmark Mercedes powerplant and luscious Martini stripes, he’s back on form – witness pole position in Austria and third-place finishes in Italy and Brazil.
Massa himself knows that time is ticking on a career that has netted 11 Ferrari wins (only three men – Schumacher, Niki Lauda and Alberto Ascari – have won more races aboard scarlet machines), 16 pole positions and 15 fastest laps.
It’d be great to see him add to that tally with Williams, but there’d be no disgrace in his being put out to pasture as one of only six Brazilians to win in F1 – especially as he ranks behind only superstar countrymen and multiple world champions Ayrton Senna (41), Nelson Piquet (23), Emerson Fittipaldi (14) in the winners’ table.