A conversation with Felipe Massa
Last month, Track Limits flew out to Miami to interview ex-Formula 1 driver and 11-time race winner, Felipe Massa. His 15-year F1 career gave the team plenty to talk about, including the infamous 2008 season’s controversies (yep, there were multiple).
What could have been
Massa recalls Ferrari’s arrangement in 2007 on who they would prioritise in a championship battle. Ferrari explained that whichever driver (Felipe or Kimi Räikkönen) had more points after the Belgian Grand Prix would be given ‘#1 driver’ status in the team and prioritised with strategies for the rest of the season.
Massa entered Monza, the race before Belgium, four points ahead of Kimi. But after retiring due to a mechanical issue with the car, Kimi ended up as the Ferrari driver with the most points going into the end of the season.
Räikkönen would ultimately go on to win the 2007 championship by a single point over McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, who finished the title equal on points. Massa would only manage 4th.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But if Massa hadn’t retired, he’d have entered Spa with the points advantage. And who knows how the rest of the season would have panned out?
And then, there’s the 2008 season
To clinch the title, Massa needed to win the final race of the season in Brazil and have Hamilton finish outside of the top five. Entering the final lap of a race of changing weather conditions, it looked like Felipe’s championship for the taking.
But in an unprecedented move on the final lap, Hamilton gained P5 in the very last corner, overtaking a slow-moving Timo Glock, who was the only driver in the top 10 to not change to intermediate tyres as the rain worsened.
Massa took P1 in Brazil and thought he’d done enough. His team had already started celebrating. It wasn’t until Hamilton crossed the line over 40 seconds later that they realised their celebrations were premature. Lewis Hamilton won the 2008 season by a single point.
You could argue Massa is one of the unluckiest drivers in F1 history by coming so close to a championship victory on two occasions. He’d agree with you, I reckon.
Massa blames the 2008 Singapore Grand Prix as the reason he lost the title. In a race he claims was ‘manipulated’, Felipe is seeking legal advice to assess the outcome of the season.
Infamously known as ‘Crashgate’, Massa believes the outcome of the race had been fixed by the Renault team to grant Fernando Alonso his first win of the season.
Alonso’s teammate, Nelson Piquet Jr, had a ‘timely’ crash that brought out a safety car, which Alonso benefited from greatly. Hamilton made the most of the incident and secured a podium finish. But Massa left Singapore with 0 points, despite qualifying P1.
Massa has made his intentions publicly clear that he wants to appeal the results of the 2008 championship.
In his interview with Track Limits, Massa discusses gathering a team of lawyers to fight the ‘misconduct’ of 2008. His son says the title is rightfully his and is doing all he can to make it a reality.
Hamilton and Massa were comparable across the season, with Massa having an extra win to his name. Two retirements for the Brazilian at the start of the season ended up being costly, made even worse by losing the championship to Hamilton by a singular point.
In the interview, Massa says he has not been approached by Hamilton about the 2008 decision. He also wanted to clear up the discourse surrounding the similarity with the 2021 season outcome.
Massa argues that there was no race manipulation in 2021 so the seasons cannot be compared, despite both being the most controversial championships in recent memory.
The former Ferrari driver doesn’t believe his case will start a snowball effect for other drivers to appeal title decisions.
Massa recalls speaking to Piquet Jr while go-karting who denied the crash being fixed. But a couple of months later, it was revealed to the press that he did have involvement in the scandal.
This is the leading argument to Massa’s case - it was confirmed the race was fixed (and even F1 royalty, Charlie Whiting, admits people kept quiet to not disturb the reputation of F1).
Massa has rounded up multiple lawyers from across the globe to fight his case and compares the McLaren spy scandal of 2007 to his title loss of 2008. He claims both had sufficient evidence, but only one case received charges.
The 2008 title fight is well-known in F1 history as one of the tightest battles. Massa mentions that, statistically, he was the better driver compared to Hamilton. He had more wins, more poles, but also more reliability and strategy issues.
Lewis has allegedly not reached out to Felipe regarding the case against the 2008 title.
A trip down memory lane
When asked about his Formula 1 legacy, Massa was firm on preferring the earlier cars of 2006-08 to the cars he drove up to his retirement in 2017. He mentioned preferring high downforce racing and the smaller, lighter feel of the old V8 era.
The heavier cars at the back end of his F1 career also made his transition to stock car racing harder, he claimed. This was also why he didn’t bond well with Formula E, due to their low downforce and ‘road tyres’.
Massa started his motorsports journey on two wheels, racing Yamaha motocross bikes as a young child. He was lucky enough to have a supportive father who encouraged him to pursue his racing dreams.
Memories of old teams and old rivals
When comparing his previous F1 teams, Felipe made some pretty amusing comparisons.
Generally, he claimed the outcome of the teams were similar, in that they wanted the best out of the driver and the car. But where the teams differed was in the mentality.
He recalls Sauber’s mechanics being silent at all times and making sure the car didn’t have a single speck of dirt on the bodywork. Massa argues that Ferrari were the complete opposite - dirty cars and noisy crew. Williams was ‘typically British’ and polite.
When prompted about Ayrton Senna being the obvious choice of a childhood hero, due to both being Brazilian, Massa goes against the fold.
He recalls meeting Senna in a yacht club and him refusing to sign an autograph. This stuck with Massa, and he made it his goal to never deny an autograph to young F1 fans once he was a driver.
Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher were both teammates to Massa during his career. He got along well with Michael and took pride in beating him on circuits he was famously dominant at (such as Suzuka).
Fernando, on the other hand, was not such a delight to work with. He saw Michael as a mentor, but Fernando as a rival. They would rarely share data and he accused Fernando of manipulating things within the team to get his own way.
Massa recalls Alonso refusing to do simulator work, and then taking all the credit for the development of the car after he won in South Korea.
Massa’s take on the modern era of F1
When asked about Logan Sargeant and Nyck de Vries’ performances in 2023, Massa urged them to try and maintain the trust of the team. He says the sport can be as mentally challenging as it is physically. His main advice to the rookies is that only they can prove they have the potential for greatness.
Naturally, Max Verstappen was a major topic of conversation.
Massa was pretty forthright in saying that he believes Max can beat all of the records to become the #1 driver in the history of Formula 1.
He doesn’t deny Max has the best car, but also points out that Sergio Perez’s performance proves it’s also down to the talent of the driver.
Massa believes that Red Bull is not actively hindering Perez to suit Max’s driving style. He argues that they know that they already have the best driver (in Max) so there would be no reason to hinder Perez and risk losing Red Bull’s first-ever 1-2 finish in F1 history.
When asked which drivers he’d hire as team principal, Massa would choose either Max Verstappen and Lando Norris or Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc.
Quickfire questions for Felipe
His favourite tracks are Suzuka and Spa
If he was to make a regulation change, he’d make the cars lighter
He wouldn’t trust three or four drivers on the current grid to take him on a hot lap
When asked who is the GOAT, Massa lists Schumacher, Senna, Fangio, Stewart, Hamilton and Verstappen
His favourite teammate was Schumacher
He thought positively about Lance Stroll as his Williams teammate until Lance claimed he learned nothing from Felipe
Massa claims Stroll is not in Formula 1 due to his talent, but because of his father
Massa’s most embarrassing moment was during the 2011 Monaco GP where he needed the toilet and waited until there was a safety car to relieve himself
If he were to bring back one Formula 1 team from history, it would be Lotus
Massa would want Daniel Ricciardo as a teammate if he were to make his F1 return - and would not want Max (due to the comparison that happens between teammates)
If he was stranded with three drivers on a desert island, he’d choose Ricciardo, Räikkönen and Schumacher.
The forgotten champion
Massa is busy fighting his corner to claim the title he believes is his.
It’ll be interesting to see how this develops and whether Hamilton will comment.
There’s no denying Felipe Massa’s legacy and success within F1 and it was an incredible experience to sit down with him and allow him to tell his side of the story.
He’s honest, determined, and a true F1 legend.