Felipe Massa: A Bit Of An Unknown, Is He Really World Champion Material?

James DunfordCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2008

Felipe Massa is currently just two points behind Lewis Hamilton in the standing this year, but does he really have what it takes to become a world champion?

Peter Sauber noticed Massa and then when he saw his performance in the Formula 3000 euro series he was convinced to sign up the young Brazilian as a test driver (interestingly Massa's family originated from Italy, but his grandfather moved to Brazil).

That year he won six out of the eight races in F3000. In 2002 his first full season he was teamed with current BMW Sauber drive Nick Heidlfeld, who was the 1999 F3000 champion. He showed that he had fantastic pace, but was extremely prone to errors.

He scored four points in that season, but this was apparently not good enough, as he was then sent off to Ferrari as a test driver.

He then spent the nexst year at the Maranello based sqaud doing hundreds of laps testing in the World Championship winning F2003GA. After a year's testing at Ferrari he then went back to Sauber after his consistency improved.

A key in Massa's racing career was in my opinion this year at Ferrari. It enabled him to drive hundreds of laps without any of the pressure in which he would of had in a full race drive. He was able to learn a lot that year, and able to learn how to drive consistently, pumping in fast lap after fast lap time and again, and if we look at Hungary earlier this year we can see this.

In 2005 Massa once again showed he had what a quick driver needed. He managed to outpace 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve and beat him in the championship standings that led to a race drive at Maranello.

An awful lot of the critics believed that it was a mistake on behalf of Ferrari for doing this. The thing was, Jean Todt had seen that exact same sparkle in Massa that Peter Sauber had seen, and so had an ageing Michael Schumacher.

In the second race of his Ferrari career he once again proved his potential, by coming from 21st position to fifth and beating teammate Michael Schumacher, who had started from 14th.

At the next race Massa seemed to go back to his old form. Following Fernando Alonso into turn one he spun and narrowly missed the reigning champion, who won the race. The season then improved, with numerous podium finishes, and his maiden pole came at the world's most renowned "Massa" track, the Istanbul track in Turkey.

In 2007 he was partnered with Kimi Raikkonen at Ferrari, and in this season got "overshadowed" by the Finn. He had a lot of bad luck, and with Kimi being the team's No. 1 driver struggled to get out of the limelight too much. By now Massa was a renowned "second driver" for Ferrari, something which he intended to change.

The 2008 season has seen Massa have some truly awful performances, at Melbourne, Sepang, Hockenheim, and Silverstone (where he spun five times incidentally). Since Silverstone he has picked up his game, however. He has started to really outshadow team mate Raikkonen who struggles with an understeery car, unlike Massa who prefers a "Schumacher-like" style of understeer.

Something he has become renowned for in his career is the "Massa" tracks, the tracks that he simply can not be touched if the car is half decent. At these tracks such as Istanbul, and Brazil to name, something just clicks and he is in another league.

He has won at Istanbul in the past three years, and although not as much of a driver's track as Spa, the renowned turn eight proves he has got what it takes. In Brazil, maybe the home crowd or the track he also "clicks" and seems to be untouchable.

Another interesting story in Massa's career is Michael Schumacher. He has helped Massa in a lot of ways im becoming the driver that he is today, quite often Massa will say he has had a chat with Michael, and they talk every race weekend.

One moment that springs to mind is Hungary 2008 when he overtook Hamilton going into T1. The front wheels locked, and personally I thought that was it, but somehow he managed to control this, maybe michael had shared the technique that helped him out on so many occasions, if that had been 2006 he would of most probably spun, especially with a lock up quite like that.

Something Felipe wasn't renowned for beign great at was his wet weather driving. He was always good in lower formulas but in F1 it never seemed to work out. Monaco this year seemed to go along way to improving his reputation, where he would have won if it had not been for the safety car, and this is maybe another aspect the "Reignmesiter" helped him.

Massa has always been very willing to learn new techniques and try new things, and has improved so so much compared to when he first stepped in an F1 car. This coupled with his outright speed in my opinion makes him worthy of the world championship, not an obvious champion at first (if he wins!) but they always say the quiet ones are the ones to look out for, and maybe when the chequered flag falls in Brazil it wont be Lewis Hamilton (fairly) winning the championship...