After the race in Austin, Formula 1 stays in the Americas, albeit having to make the long trip from Texas to Sao Paulo for the nineteenth round of the championship, this Sunday’s Brazilian Grand Prix. It marks the end of the 2013 season, but it is also a very special landmark for one driver in particular, as this will be the last time that Felipe Massa takes to the track with the Prancing Horse emblem on his race suit. This part of the Paulista’s career, which makes him the second longest serving driver of all time after Michael Schumacher is coming to an end. And the good news in his native Brazil and for all his fans around the world, is that the long tradition of having a Brazilian driver competing in the highest level of motorsport continues, because Felipe’s move to the Williams team for 2014 was confirmed not long ago. Can the boisterous Brazilian crowd make even more noise than usual? We will find out in a few days’ time.
“Just competing in the Brazilian GP is a dream for all Brazilian racing drivers,” says Felipe. “My racing career started in Interlagos, my local go-kart track and I also raced in other junior categories here. Before then, I remember sitting in the grandstands when I was a kid, watching Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and even Rubens Barrichello. After that, to race there in Formula 1 is a feeling that is hard to explain. There is all that energy you get from the crowd, from being at the track you love the most, hearing the music in the stands, feeling all that support.”
In fact, Felipe has experienced the even greater thrill of winning his home race, joining the great names of Emerson Fittipaldi, Carlos Pace, after whom the Interlagos circuit is named, Nelson Piquet and Ayrton Senna. “Winning there is a feeling that is hard to describe,” continues the Ferrari man. “Winning here in 2006, in my first year with Ferrari was definitely the most incredible race of my life. I had a special race suit featuring the yellow and green colours of our national flag and standing on the top step of the podium was more than I had ever expected from my life. For a Brazilian to win this race, it’s like winning the world title. It was the most emotional race of my life and I remember it as though it was yesterday. It really was the realisation of a dream.” Felipe’s mention of the world title has to bring us to the 2008 Brazilian Grand Prix, when for a few seconds it seemed that the name Massa was to be engraved on the World Championship trophy, until an overtaking move, after the Ferrari driver had taken the chequered flag, handed that year’s crown to Lewis Hamilton. “I didn’t win the title, but I did win the race and also took pole position and set the fastest lap of the race,” recalls Felipe. “So I did everything perfectly that weekend, which made it very special as well.” Everyone who was there at the circuit, or who watched the events unfold on television, remembers the dignified way Felipe behaved on the podium and the way he handled himself in the aftermath of the most bitter-sweet victory: it marked the Brazilian out as a truly great sportsman.
“I’d like to be remembered as an important component of the Ferrari team,” is Felipe’s view of his time in red. “We had great times together, winning races and championships and we also lived through some difficult moments. I am proud to be part of Ferrari’s history. It was always my dream to drive for Ferrari and I did it for ten years, eight of them as a race driver. Actually, I had a contract with Ferrari even before then, when I was just a kid really. It’s been a long time during which I always gave my all for the team. For my final race with them, I also need to say thanks to all the fans who have supported me throughout this time with Ferrari. They really feel part of the Ferrari world and the Ferrari family. With those fans I have celebrated many great moments and, on the other hand, when I was going through tough times, they gave me so much energy and support. It will be very emotional racing at Interlagos for Ferrari for the final time.”
If Felipe’s farewell represents the emotional side of Ferrari’s Brazilian weekend, then the cold hard racing necessity is to try and secure second place in the Constructor’s Championship. The task was made harder on Sunday, when second placed Mercedes edged further ahead in Austin, but there are still plenty of points up for grabs and it is doable. There are some circuits on the calendar where car performance, although still an essential component, is less vital than at others and Interlagos is definitely one of those: the tiny left handed track with its insidious corners and camber changes and its bumpy surface has often produced some incredible racing with equally incredible and unexpected winners. If ever there was a need for that to play in the Scuderia’s favour, it’s this Sunday.