Next weekend will see Felipe Massa compete in his 250th and last Grand Prix. It follows an emotional final home race in Brazil, where despite crashing out, he was left in no doubt as to just how much both the fans and his paddock colleagues will miss him. We caught up with Massa ahead of Abu Dhabi to reflect on his career – and consider his future…
Q: Felipe, Sao Paulo was a very emotional race for you. Probably then and there it really dawned on you that you are retiring from Formula One racing. Happy or sad – or something in between?
Felipe Massa: Well, something in between, yes. I am definitely happy with my decision, but I also became aware that I maybe will miss something. I love to drive – but I am also convinced that it is the right thing to do. I am very ready for my next step in life.
Q: You have one more race to do, then for Felipe Massa Formula One is no more. How will Monday morning after Abu Dhabi feel?
FM: I think it will be a relief. Sure I will miss some things, but I think that there is the same amount of things I definitely will not miss. Driving – to compete: that I will miss. If you are entrenched in a world of competition for so long then it becomes second nature – and then stopping sure creates a certain void. So I will have to fill that void with other things.
Q: When you look back you have competed against numerous world champions: Michael Schumacher, Jacques Villeneuve, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton – and some of them have also been your team mates…
FM: That’s what I mean when I say that I will miss the competition – to compete against the best. I will also miss not being involved anymore in the technology that makes F1 – having to sharpen your senses with every new regulation change. But I am ready to leave that all behind.
Q: What are the things that you definitely will not miss?
FM: For example, simulator work. And so much travelling. Don’t get me wrong, I like to travel – but lately it has become simply too much. And then little things – but those I will keep to myself! (Laughs) I am proud of my decision – even if walking back to the paddock in Sao Paulo almost overwhelmed me. The feedback from the fans in that very moment gave me goose bumps – and made me proud of my career.
Q: Was there also fun involved? You have probably spent the best years of your life in F1, being young, successful and financially well off. What funny moments come to mind? Any with Michael?
FM: Yes, Michael was great fun. And most things happened at the Ferrari winter events in Madonna di Campiglio – when we were on ‘professional fun time’! Doing donuts with cars in the snow, going down the slopes with a bottle of vodka underneath the anorak – to keep warm…
Q: And what about Kimi Raikkonen? He was also your team mate and arguably one of the funniest guys in the paddock, even when he doesn’t necessarily mean to be. Any anecdotes about him?
FM: Ha, to be honest working with Kimi was sometimes a bit painful because he is not really interested to talk! (Laughs) Sometimes a simple ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ is already too much for him. But catch him in a different condition and he is completely different: he can’t stop talking and is great fun. I have to say that him and me, we are completely different about almost everything, but he is very fair – and that was the glue that kept us together. It’s a bit like with Valtteri (Bottas) – even if I have to say that Valtteri talks a bit more than Kimi! But it’s the same mentality. And it’s again about fairness and respect.
Q: That all sounds like that you’ve been always fond of your team mates. Is that so?
FM: On a personal level, yes. But, of course, there is also the professional level – the competition. Sometimes you are not happy because you are behind. And you, of course, try to do better and then rivalry – in my career always a ‘healthy’ one – starts to set in.
Q: Who was closest to you out of all the guys who occupied the garage next to you?
FM: Michael. In many ways he was my master. Sure, I also wanted to be in front of him, but I looked at him always like an idol – something like ‘Gee, I want to be like you!’ He was probably looking at me like the little guy whom he wanted to help. It was a very different relationship to all my other team mates. Maybe that is why I decided to announce my retirement in Monza, as there is a story attached to that. Kimi had already signed a contract with Ferrari two years before he actually drove for them – and the only way for me to stay with Ferrari was for Michael to retire. And he did that – in Monza 2006. He was probably a bit tired – and maybe he was also thinking ‘Felipe is doing a good job, so give him a chance to stay’. I don’t know, but that is why I also did it in Monza 2016 – 10 years later.
Q: Can you remember when you changed from a naive young driver, coming into Formula One all happy and smiles, to somebody more thick skinned and probably more wary of his team, his team mates and the media?
FM: Looking back, I think I was always pretty open with the media. I was a bit careful when I was with Ferrari, as we were given a lot of orders on what to say – which, by the way, I never liked. But I was part of the team, so I respected their orders.
Q: When you look back over 15 years in Formula One have there been times you felt uncomfortable?
FM: Probably in my last year with Ferrari. I was tired and not motivated. In that situation I thought ‘Maybe I am too nice!’ I know that I get a lot of compensation for this in many other areas in life – but probably not necessarily in F1. Maybe I also missed some opportunities, as in this sport you need to be aggressive – but then this wouldn’t have been me any longer. And I definitely was never a ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ kind of person! (laughs)
Q: So finally, what is the next step in the life of Felipe Massa?
FM: I have some ideas, but am not ready to say anything right now. What I can say is that nothing is decided yet. I want to build something that has a value for longer. I for sure will race, but that is just the outline of a bigger plan.