Ranking the 5 Best Moments of Felipe Massa's Formula 1 Career

Oliver Harden@@OllieHardenFeatured ColumnistSeptember 2, 2016

Ranking the 5 Best Moments of Felipe Massa's Formula 1 Career

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    Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press

    After 14 seasons in the pinnacle of motorsport, Felipe Massa has confirmed he will retire from Formula One at the end of 2016.

    One of the warmest, most sensitive figures in the paddock, the Brazilian has become a cult hero since arriving on the grid with the Sauber team in 2002 and will celebrate his 250th F1 start when he makes his final appearance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.

    Massa spent the peak of his career at Ferrari, where he claimed a total of 11 grand prix victories and came within a single point of winning the world championship in 2008.

    Now 35, Massa has spent the last three seasons with Williams, whom he led to third place in the constructors' standings in 2014 and '15 with a number of podium finishes.

    Here, we celebrate Massa's career by ranking the five best moments of his time in F1, all of which revealed much about his skill behind the wheel and his personality off the track.

Honourable Mentions

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    Throughout his career, Massa has had a reputation for making excellent starts, and two have lived much longer in the memory than the rest.

    The first came in the 2007 Spanish GP, where he started from pole position and immediately came under attack from Fernando Alonso.

    The home hero tried his luck around the outside of the Brazilian at Turn 1, but Massa withstood the assault, held the inside line and muscled his future Ferrari team-mate into the gravel before going on to win.

    The second came around 18 months later in Hungary, where he lined up third on the grid but exited Turn 1 in the lead after passing Lewis Hamilton—Lewis Hamilton!—around the outside of the slow right-hander.

    That should have been enough for Massa to edge closer to the 2008 world championship, but an engine failure just three laps from the finish—just one example of the bad luck that plagued the Brazilian over the years—cost him victory. 

    Elsewhere, Massa's wins in Bahrain and Turkey in 2007 and '08 almost seemed to blend into one, such was his dominance at those circuits at the height of his Ferrari days.

    Although he failed to win a race in his final four seasons with the team, Massa continued to produce a number of outstanding performances for Ferrari.

    In his first race since his near-fatal crash at the 2009 Hungarian GP, Massa outqualified Alonso before enjoying a strong drive to second place at Bahrain 2010, instantly dismissing concerns that he would never be the same after his accident.

    In 2012, he pulled off one of the best overtaking manoeuvres of the season by passing Bruno Senna on the narrow Anderson Bridge, demonstrating his supreme car control in the process.

    And while his time with Williams will be mostly remembered for his efficiency rather than any particularly standout drives, his third-place finish at the 2015 Italian GP—where he withstood a late charge from team-mate Valtteri Bottas—was earned after a particularly gutsy performance.

    His comment to the team over team radio after crossing the line? "I'm too old for that!"

5. There's Life in the Ol' Dog Yet, 2014 Austrian GP Qualifying

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    There were some who felt Massa's retirement announcement should have come three years ago.

    When Ferrari broke the habit of a lifetime by signing two No. 1 drivers in September 2013—capturing Kimi Raikkonen to spook and shut up an outspoken Alonso—there was an opportunity for the Brazilian to walk away with his head held high.

    Having won so many races and come so close to winning the world championship, there was nothing left to prove and—after spending four seasons as Alonso's doormat—he didn't need the hassle or the indignation of driving an uncompetitive car in the obscurity of the midfield.

    Massa at least had the foresight to realise Williams, switching from Renault to Mercedes power units, could return to the front of the grid under the new V6 turbo regulations, but his performances in the early months of 2014 were those of a man merely delaying the inevitable.

    Incidents in China, where he banged wheels with Alonso off the start line, and Canada—where he was involved in a last-lap crash with Sergio Perez on a day the win was there for the taking—raised doubts over his competence as a front-running grand prix driver.

    Yet all those were silenced on qualifying day at the Austrian GP, when Williams—with a low-downforce chassis and the standard-setting engine at their disposal—emerged as a serious threat to the all-conquering Mercedes team.

    With Hamilton experiencing one of his off days—having a lap time deleted for exceeding track limits before spinning at Turn 2 on his second run—the shootout pole position became a three-way fight between Massa, Bottas and Nico Rosberg.

    While Rosberg was unable to string a lap together and Bottas made an error in the infield section, Massa kept things clean to secure the first non-Mercedes pole of the V6 era—his first since Brazil 2008 and Williams' first front-row lockout in 11 years.

    He may have been punted down to fourth the following day, but that lap proved Massa still had plenty to offer.

4. Conquering the Principality, 2008 Monaco GP Qualifying

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    Massa hated Monaco.

    He crashed on his first appearance there in 2002, and he crashed on what proved to be his final visit to the street circuit in 2016, with plenty of other shunts—including two in consecutive days in the 2013 event—in between.

    But in 2008, Massa managed to keep out of the walls to take the most important pole positon of his career.

    As reported by Mark Hughes in a print edition of Autosport magazine, he was struggling in the early stages of the weekend, and—after analysing the "braking traces and tyre loadings"—Massa's race engineer, Rob Smedley, became convinced he was losing the vast majority of his time at Sainte Devote.

    Ahead of the final segment of qualifying, Massa was insistent he would crash if he tried to take the corner any faster, with Ferrari filling his car with three extra laps' worth of fuel—to be used in the first stint of the race—on the assumption pole position was out of his reach.

    After setting a banker lap in the third qualifying session, Smedley encouraged his driver to "just try waiting that fraction of a second longer" before braking at Sainte Devote, pointing out an escape road was waiting if Massa ever felt he was heading straight to the scene of an accident.

    Despite his reservations, Massa "made himself do it," held his breath and found he was "going way faster than he'd ever been through there before," the boost of confidence carrying him all the way through the rest of the lap.

    The end result? 

    Massa beat team-mate Raikkonen and Hamilton to pole despite carrying more fuel than the pair of them, and "he and Smedley could not stop giggling."

    That tale offered an insight into the trust between driver and race engineer, and the act of bravery was something of a breakthrough moment for Massa, who claimed assured poles at the new street tracks in Valencia and Singapore later that year.

    In other words, it was the exact moment he made the leap from being a very good racing driver to a potential world champion.

3. The First Win, 2006 Turkish GP

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    Come August 2006, the world championship fight between Alonso and Michael Schumacher was beginning to get really interesting.

    After a frustrating Hungarian GP for both men—a loose wheelnut saw Alonso retire from the lead, while Schumacher produced a scruffy drive to eighth—they arrived in Turkey separated by just 10 points.

    But the title protagonists were upstaged by the boy from Brazil, who had grown significantly in stature across his first season as a Ferrari driver.

    At Istanbul Park, a circuit he would come to love, Massa outqualified Schumacher for the first time, and in doing so, he secured his maiden pole position by a margin of 0.377 seconds.

    With the red-helmeted Ferrari and Alonso's blue-and-yellow Renault lurking behind him on the grid, however, Massa spent almost as much time looking at his rearview mirrors as he did at the track ahead.

    Indeed, knowing how Schumacher-centric the Ferrari team of that era were, it would have been no surprise had the pit wall instructed Massa to swap positions with his team-mate at some stage of the race.

    But that plan, if it did indeed exist, was ruined as early as Lap 13, when Vitantonio Liuzzi's spin resulted in the deployment of the safety car, with Schumacher—who was forced to stack behind Massa—dropping behind Alonso when the leaders came into the pits.

    As such, the remainder of the race revolved around the battle between Alonso and Schumacher, who tried anything and everything in his efforts to get past as Massa sat nervously at the front, managing a slender gap and waiting for the call to come.

    It never arrived, and Massa stepped out of Schumacher's shadow to enjoy his first day in the sun.

2. The Biggest Joy, 2006 Brazilian GP

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    The Schumacher-Alonso battle lasted until the final race of 2006, but by then there was no need to move over, to make frantic calculations and to consider all the potential permutations.

    Schumacher's smoky retirement from the previous race at Suzuka had given Alonso a 10-point lead in the drivers' standings ahead of the season finale, meaning the Renault driver only had to finish in the top eight in Brazil to be assured of his second consecutive world title.

    The seven-time title winner's reliability issues in qualifying, which left him unable to set a time in Q3—followed by his puncture in the opening laps of the race—extinguished Schumacher's last remaining hopes of ending his career with an eighth world championship.

    But his demise did at least simplify matters for Massa—packed into a set of green-and-yellow overalls for his first home appearance as a Ferrari driver—who could concentrate on his own race.

    And it showed.

    At the Interlagos circuit, where he once delivered food in exchange for a paddock pass, Massa enjoyed his first truly dominant weekend in F1, claiming pole position by 0.619 seconds and disappearing into the distance on race day.

    His pole-to-flag win made him the first home victor of the Brazilian GP since Ayrton Senna in 1993 and—as Schumacher left the paddock that evening, having recovered to fourth place—there was a sense Ferrari had been left in good hands.

    "The biggest joy of my career was my victory in the Brazilian Grand Prix [in 2006], Massa wrote in his retirement statement on Motorsport.com. "Winning in Sao Paulo, in my home town, was an emotionally unique experience."

1. Dignity in Defeat, 2008 Brazilian GP

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    F1 podium ceremonies are normally run like clockwork, but on this occasion, the champagne could wait.

    In the fading light of Interlagos, Massa ignored the three little steps to his left and marched toward the edge of the balcony, getting a little closer his people.

    With tears in his eyes, he began to pound the Prancing Horse on his chest, pointing at the Ferrari folk who had gathered beneath the podium and those in the grandstands, punching the air and outstretching his arms—creating an almost biblical image at the end of the 2008 season.

    The holy grail that was the F1 title was out of his reach, but Massa's reaction to his one-point defeat to Hamilton made him the people's champion in the eyes of so many.

    Massa had, of course, stood as the champion of the world for around 38 seconds at the end of the Brazilian GP, having made it through a late-race rain shower to secure a second pole-to-flag win in three years at his home race.

    That curveball came close to tripping up Hamilton, who lost the 2007 title after a temporary gearbox glitch in Brazil, at the finish line once again.

    But after losing a place to Sebastian Vettel in changeable conditions, Hamilton caught and passed Toyota's Timo Glock—who took the gamble of finishing the race on dry-weather tyres in damp conditions—at the last corner of the last lap of the last race to take the position he needed.

    It feels appropriate to leave the last word to Smedley, who was the first to console his partner in crime over pit-to-car radio when the most frenzied three-lap period in the history of the sport came to an end. 

    "I think you've done, well, what I can only say is a very good job. Made a lot of friends this year and done a very, very good job.

    "Well done, son. Very, very proud of you."