Following a difficult second season with Meister and failing to find a race drive for the 2017 season, Felipe Massa will join Nico Rosberg in FF1M retirement after the conclusion of the 2016 Macau Grand Prix.
The Brazilian has had a highly chequered career with multiple gaps in his FF1M CV from his first season in 2001 to what would be his last come the end of 2016. His ascendency into FF1M seemed to come too quickly as his initial feeder series experience consisted of just one FF2M race with Cramer Racing at the Hungaroring when he deputised for Dario Franchitti, who was himself drafted in to replace a banned Jarno Trulli. It was a strong performance for Massa where he finished 3rd behind fellow Brazilian Cristiano Da Matta and twice FF1M race winner Jos Verstappen.
Rather than remaining in FF2M for a full season, he was thrown straight into the deep end for 2001 where he was signed by MRD Racing alongside Trulli, who at this point was a reigning two-time champion. Unsurprisingly, Massa was outshone by his teammate, but his big highlight came at Monaco where he qualified a season’s best 5th and finished 2nd as part of an MRD 1-2. The team’s inferior Bridgestone rubber prevented any further podium finishes for the Brazilian and he finished 11th in the drivers championship.
Massa stayed with MRD going into 2002 where he had a new teammate in the form of Fernando Alonso, who himself had tyre trouble in what was a difficult final season for Maestro Motorsport in 2001. MRD had switched to the superior Michelin tyres and it was Alonso who adapted best as he went on to win his first drivers championship. By stark contrast, Massa’s season never got going with a best result of 6th at Melbourne. He was also one of six drivers to receive the dreaded Qualifying Penalty for an unsafe rejoin into the path of Jacques Villeneuve and causing minor mayhem from it. A lowly 16th in the drivers championship plus failing to contribute to MRD’s teams championship challenge were his net results.
Unable to find a drive for 2003, Massa reunited with the Gui Racing organisation with whom he’d driven for during the 2000 FF2M season. This time, he was a test driver for their main FF1M team. Satisfied with his progress, Gui promoted Massa to a race seat for 2004. Although he managed a podium at Barcelona and comfortably had the measure over teammate Kimi Raikkonen, the car was largely uncompetitive due to Bridgestone tyres and the team not developing a turbo for their Cosworth engine. Nevertheless, Massa was retained for 2005 where a much more competitive package allowed him to take a brilliant maiden win in changeable conditions at the Nurburgring. A debut pole position at the Hungaroring followed, but inconsistency would prove to be his undoing as he was shockingly dropped with three rounds remaining.
A fruitless period dogged Massa over the next two seasons. Despite being snapped up by Exolite, 2006 was a complete waste of time as a chronically underdeveloped car meant that he didn’t qualify for a single race. 2007 initially started off as another test driver role, this time with Pedersen, but he took part in four race weekends after Neel Jani’s enormous accident at the Nurburgring left the team in disarray. Another uncompetitive car meant that Massa wasn’t able to score points.
2008 saw Massa be contracted to two teams for different purposes; another test driver role at Gui Racing and racing for FJR’s FF2M team, STV Racing. With equal machinery, Massa was able to showcase his talent as he beat compatriot Lucas Di Grassi to the drivers championship by four points. A promotion back into FF1M for 2009 was only logical and with an FJR that had developed KERS the earliest, it promised to be a good season. However, the new technology wreaked havoc with reliability and it proved to be a disappointing season in spite of two podium finishes at Montreal and Hockenheim. Massa also lost a certain win at Sakhir thanks to a blown engine.
Despite outscoring teammate Robert Kubica, FJR completely restructured their team for 2010 and Massa once again found himself without an FF1M drive. Under team boss James Brickles’ watch, Massa took part in the FFR3.5 season with Fortec Motorsport, where he dominated to take his second feeder series championship. His reward was yet another promotion back into FF1M with Gui Racing for 2011. By this time, he was getting fed up of being thrown from pillar to post, and he channelled this frustration by sensationally winning the opening race. Three more podiums including a crushing performance at the Nurburgring put Massa in the championship lead by eight points. Although his championship challenge eventually faded, at least his career appeared to be going in the right direction with a career best 4th in the drivers championship…
…but once again, poor Felipe was overlooked going into 2012 and was forced to take part in the new FFeM championship. It was another strong season in another feeder series, but one where a different Brazilian, Nelsinho Piquet, took the drivers championship. Massa took a year out of racing completely to refresh himself before returning to FF1M with Andrew Racing and reuniting with 2009 teammate Kubica. It was a somewhat inauspicious return to racing, in part down to Andrew running much of the season on the slower hard tyres, but a dogged drive to 6th at Singapore was a highlight.
The motivation of racing for a new team on the grid for 2015 was enough to convince Massa to remain in FF1M. Together with another old teammate, Raikkonen, both built Meister into an immediately competitive team with the Brazilian taking two 3rd place finishes in the opening two races. At Hockenheim, he took his first pole position since the 2005 Hungarian Grand Prix, and then came the Hungaroring. On a day where nearly every driver struggled on the softer compounds, Massa’s more consistent hard tyres allowed him to keep it on the road and out of trouble to take a superb win. One more pole position at Spa and three more podium finishes followed for a largely successful season where Massa and Raikkonen helped Meister to finish runner up in the teams championship.
Meister kept the same line-up for 2016, but it has proven to be a completely different season compared to 2015, largely thanks to an absent team boss. No podium finishes have been recorded so far with 5th places at Aragon and Monza being the team’s best results, and after failing to secure a drive for 2017, Massa’s yoyo FF1M career will be coming to an end. The Brazilian has faced a lot of adversities with a career that started too early, forced him to drive a series of uncompetitive cars, and also suffered the ignominy of being sacked in the same season where he took his first win and pole position. However, he had the talent and gutsy determination to counter those punches and was able to remain in the spotlight for a total span of 16 seasons. Four FF1M wins, three pole positions, and 15 podium finishes were just some of what Massa was capable of.