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GP Week : Issue 190
21 GPWEEK.com // 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: OPINION After endless questions and speculation surrounding his future, Felipe Massa is finally set to leave Ferrari at the end of the year after eight seasons at Maranello. Massa’s departure, I suppose, was inevitable after three-and-a-half years of middling performances, but I was hoping – like many in the paddock – that the likeable Brazilian would be granted a stay of execution once again. Because as excited as I am about watching Fernando Alonso and Kimi Raikkonen go head-to-head in equal equipment at the most successful and glamorous team in Formula One, I am sad to see Massa leave. There is no doubt that his driving in recent years has been sub-par, but given the near- constant clamour in the press and on social media calling for Massa to be sacked, it’s easy to forget how good he actually was in his prime. The 32-year-old made his debut with Sauber in 2002. He was quick straight out of the box, but he was also wild and erratic. It was a reputation that stuck, and team principal Peter Sauber sacked the rookie at the end of the year. But recognising his potential, reigning world champions Ferrari – to whom Massa was incidentally contracted before making his Formula One debut – threw him a lifeline, taking him on as a test driver and spending the 2003 season working with the Brazilian to help him iron out the mistakes from his driving and work on his consistency. For 2004, Massa was back with the Ferrari-engined Sauber team and, over the course of the season, earned back the faith Peter Sauber had shown in him when he had given Massa his first F1 drive. He stayed at Sauber in 2005, beating former world champion team-mate Jacques Villeneuve that year, but Massa’s opportunity to shine, to prove to his naysayers how good he actually was, came the following season, when he was signed by Ferrari as a race driver to learn at seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher’s knee. “I studied everything he did – sometimes by talking to him, but sometimes by just watching him. I studied his races lap by lap. I tried to imitate him. And it worked,” Massa said in a 2007 interview with F1 Racing magazine. After a rocky start to the year Massa’s driving showed a marked improvement, culminating in his first F1 race win at the Turkish Grand Prix after a peerless drive saw him comfortably beat both Fernando Alonso and Michael Schumacher. A second win followed at the season- ending Brazilian Grand Prix. Massa was on song all weekend, and took a dominant win from pole to become the first Brazilian since Ayrton Senna in 1993 to win his home race. Since that first season in 2006, Ferrari and Massa have been through a rollercoaster of emotions together. Massa raised his game in the post- Schumacher era, emerging as the team leader to outperform the highly-rated Raikkonen, and all of Massa’s 11 wins have come at the wheel of a Prancing Horse. But there have also been some dark days and bitter disappointments, moments like that Saturday in in 2009 when Massa suffered a near-fatal head injury in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, or the Brazilian Grand Prix in 2008. Who can forget the feeling of elation giving way to utter anguish and stunned disbelief as Massa – the man who had always been considered a number two driver and never the chosen one – crossed the line to win the race and the world championship, striking a blow for the underdog seemingly against the odds, only for Hamilton to cross the line 30-odd seconds later in fifth place and snatch it back? Who can forget the emotion on the podium as Massa, standing on the top step, thumped his chest and pumped his fist, encouraging his countrymen to keep their spirits up, to not lose hope, showing great character in the face of defeat as he fought to hold back his tears? I think it’s fair to say we all cried with the little Brazilian that day. There is no doubt that over his eight years with the team, Massa has given a lot to Ferrari. But having said that, from sticking by him after that horrific accident in Hungary in 2009 to throwing him a lifeline at the end of last year, Ferrari have given a lot back too. Ferrari loved Massa and he was very much a part of the ‘Ferrari family’ that Luca di Montezemolo likes to talk about, as is evident from the way they closed ranks around their man after his accident in Budapest. But performance is everything in Formula One, and as sadasIamtoseeMassago,Ican’t help but feel Ferrari have made the right decision. OPINION ABHISHEK TAKLE Contributing Writer STAY COOL, FELIPE BABY, STAY COOL