Felipe Massa will make his home farewell to Formula One on Sunday with pride, passion and more than a little concern about Brazil’s future in a sport he fell in love with as a kid in the Interlagos crowd.
The excited teenager who first stepped into the Sao Paulo paddock in 1998 when he helped bring in catering supplies, bows out as a man who ultimately delivered as much as any of his compatriots on home soil.
No Brazilian has won anywhere in F1 since now-retired Rubens Barrichello did so with Brawn in Italy in 2009 and it could be a long wait for another, with the country in crisis and few obvious candidates coming through.
Next year’s race has an asterisk against it on the provisional calendar while Felipe Nasr, the only Brazilian likely to be racing then, is yet to be confirmed at struggling Sauber.
“I see a very difficult moment for Brazil, a very difficult moment for our drivers,” said Massa who is more inclined to steer his young son Felipinho towards soccer.
“It will be nice if Felipe (Nasr) can stay. Unfortunately even if he stays, he will not stay in a good team,” he told Reuters in an interview.
“Other drivers? I cannot see a name for the moment. And I really hope we can see a name because Brazil was always very strong in motor racing, in Formula One. We never stayed without a Brazilian driver since (double world champion) Emerson (Fittipaldi) started (in 1970).”
The championship escaped Massa by a single point in 2008 with Ferrari but he twice gave the fans a home winner and stood five times on the Interlagos podium.
A top three finish in Sunday’s penultimate race of the season would be a dream scenario, if unlikely in a Williams that has fallen off the pace, and he would depart with head held high.
“I’m really happy. Emotional, happy I’m having a very special week — I’m sure the weekend will be even more special when the fans will be on the racetrack in the Brazilian way,” said Massa.
“I always remember where I am coming from, being a fan in the grandstand and supporting Ayrton Senna, Nelson Piquet and then suddenly dreaming to be here.
“For a Brazilian to win here is like winning the championship,” added the 35-year-old who will bow out for good in Abu Dhabi on Nov. 27 after his 250th grand prix.
“I think it will be like maybe a relief. For sure I feel OK. It’s finished, you know, but I’m ready for that,” he said of the final race. “I’m ready for that feeling, I’m ready for my next step in life.”
Massa also won at Interlagos in 2006 and would have completed a hat-trick had he not given up victory in 2007 to allow Ferrari team mate Kimi Raikkonen to snatch the championship from Lewis Hamilton by a point.
The Briton inflicted similar agony on the Brazilian the following year when he won the title after an overtaking move on the last corner of the last lap for fifth place.
Despite that body blow, which he accepted with impressive sportsmanship, Massa’s home record makes him more successful in Brazil than multiple world champions Senna, Piquet and Fittipaldi.
Looking ahead, he intends to keep racing and will remain based in Europe, with a home in Monaco.
“I am speaking to three championships like WEC (world endurance championship), DTM (German touring cars) and (the electric series) Formula E,” he said. “I will take my time to decide.”