When it comes to racing in their home grand prix, there are two types of drivers: those who really struggle with the added pressure, and those who thrive on it. Felipe Massa definitely thrived on it.
During the early part of his career, he developed a bit of a reputation as a driver who was only good on certain circuits. He’s since shaken that off, but there can be little doubt that when it comes to Interlagos, he often managed to find a bit extra and put in a really special performance. Here are six of his best.
After a fast-but-wild debut season in 2002, a year out testing for Ferrari had calmed Felipe somewhat. When he went back to a race seat with Sauber in 2004 it was clear how much he’d improved, especially towards the end of the year.
Brazil was the final round in 2004 and Felipe did a terrific job to qualify fourth, matching his career best. But perhaps more impressively, he was only a quarter of a second off of Rubens Barrichello’s pole time. In a Sauber.
In the race he even led for a few laps, but come the end had slipped to eighth as faster cars moved up the order.
Wearing special overalls decked out like the Brazilian flag (which looked awesome), Massa plonked his Ferrari on pole, some seven tenths faster than anyone else, and in the race shot off into the lead.
He said he’d give up the win for teammate Michael Schumacher (who was fighting Fernando Alonso for the title), but when Schumacher dropped back with a puncture early on, that looked unlikely.
Whilst Schumacher put in a searing recovery drive, Felipe simply cruised around at the front unchallenged to take become the first Brazilian to win at home since Ayrton Senna in 1993.
In tricky wet-dry conditions and under the massive pressure of trying to win a championship, Massa’s detractors would probably have expected him to crumble and falter. It was quite the opposite.
Just as in 2006 (and 2007, where he had to give up the win to help Kimi Raikkonen’s title bid), he qualified comfortably on pole and controlled the race as title rival Lewis Hamilton was the one who looked ill at ease with the conditions.
Unfortunately for Felipe, Hamilton did just enough to win the title in one of the most thrilling and unlikely championship deciders of all time. But Massa had done more than just win the race. His grace and sportsmanship at losing the title, standing on top of the podium in front of his adoring fans, had won the hearts of everyone.
Whether it was a result of the injury from the spring at Hungary in 2009, or the sheer mental battering of having Alonso as a teammate, Massa was never quite the same driver as he had been before his accident.
Heading into the final race of 2012 Alonso was challenging Sebastian Vettel for the championship whilst Massa had scored just one podium all season and was way down in seventh in the points standings.
However, the final race was at Interlagos, and Felipe once again made a step up in performance. He out-qualified Fernando, and though he slipped behind him in the early stages of the race, he drove so well (again, in changeable conditions) that he found himself in second towards the end and actually had to let Alonso back ahead of him.
The switch to Williams seemed to revitalise Felipe (having dominant Mercedes engines helped, too!) and he ended up scoring the same amount of podiums that year as he had in his previous three with Ferrari.
One of those, of course, came at Interlagos, where he qualified and finished a pretty comfortable third – despite getting a penalty in the race for speeding in the pitlane and stopping in the wrong pit box during a stop!
His last Brazilian Grand Prix? Probably, but we’ve been here before!
Hopefully it is, because this year’s race was a great way for him to sign off in Brazil. He was quick all weekend and might have started higher than ninth had he not been held up by Carlos Sainz in qualifying.
In the race, he made one of his trademark brilliant starts to get up to sixth, which became fifth when he passed Alonso a few laps later. Alonso stuck on his tail for pretty much the whole race and although the recovering Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo meant the battle was for seventh by the end, it was still a great result – his best this year since Bahrain – which he said felt like a victory.