He fell a point short of the world title in 2008. The accident in the 2009 season at the Hungaroring, the rather difficult relationship with Fernando Alonso and with Ferrari itself, which, according to the Brazilian, no longer gave him the car to win. Finally, the subject of Robert Kubica and his unfulfilled future at the Maranello team. Felipe Massa was interviewed in Singapore by Roksana Ćwik.
Finally, after 10 years, I can talk with you. Live outside of Formula 1 – what is it like?
Really good. Amazing. In the end, I raced for 16 years in Formula 1, 15 championships. I think you need to have in your mind that the time has finished, you know. You need to be open–minded because everything starts from zero again. After your career in Formula 1 you can do so many things. And I have to say I'm pretty happy, you know, how things change, how things are going. I'm still racing in stock cars. Actually, what I miss is the competition. I don't miss, like, being in Formula 1, working day by day, every week. I don't miss this, but I miss, like, the competition. And here in another category you have that, you know. So, I race in stock cars. I'm pretty happy, you know, enjoying, having fun. I moved back to Brazil. I have some business there. I have a restaurant there as well.
What kind of restaurant?
It's a beef bar. It's a steakhouse. It's a famous restaurant in Monaco, which I brought to Brazil. And it's booming, it’s really booming. Apart from that, I go to some Formula 1 races as an ambassador. This year I'm doing eight races. It's a different job, but, I mean, it's fun. I meet a lot of different people in these races. In the end, everything is going really well. I'm really enjoying my life, having my time with my family.
You're working with F1 now. Is it difficult sometimes to have an opinion about other drivers when you are now outside or is it easier?
No, I think it's the same. You know, when you're watching the races, the qualifying, and you just understand how things are going. You understand the difference also between the drivers. You understand the difference between the cars. You understand that. I mean, that doesn't change anything.
For me, you will always be a world champion, but how difficult is it to hear when the world tells you that you are not the world champion?
It's not difficult, to be honest. That message, it was normal. I mean, for sure, it was not the message I was expecting to receive. But by everything that was happening in the race, it was raining at the end, I thought everything could have been possible. And I understood that. I mean, Lewis was in the middle of the fight, so maybe it can be good, it can be bad. Then, when he said that message, I was disappointed, but I won the race. It was not depending on myself; it was depending on the position behind. I couldn't do anything. I did my job in the perfect way I could.
If you could change one thing during your career, what could it be?
Actually, I don't need to change anything. I’ve learned a lot. Anything that happens, it happens for my learning. I'm really enjoying many moments. I learn with the difficult moments. I enjoyed many good moments, and I think it was a great experience in my life. Nothing really I can change. For sure, if the only thing I can ask to change is one more point in 2008. But that didn't happen for a reason, and in the end, it didn't really change my life.
You worked with Fernando Alonso, but also with Michael Schumacher. How was it to be a partner with Michael?
It was great. I mean, it was a great experience. It was a great time to be able to be teammates with Michael Schumacher. I learned a lot from him. He was an amazing driver. The way he was working… We were very close as well. In the end I was lucky to be part of that experience.
Was Fernando Alonso your most difficult teammate?
Yeah, yeah, for sure.
In which ways?
First of all, he was an amazing driver. There's nothing you can say. But it was quite difficult to work together inside the team, you know. Actually, the team was splitting in the middle. And in the end, it was not good for the result of the team. And also, for me, I didn't feel strong enough to work, to make the team listen to me. That was quite hard. But anyway, it was also some learning around as well.
When you came for the first time in F1, did you feel that you would stay for such a long time here?
I was expecting it. But you know how it is in Formula 1. You need to be at the right time, at the right moment, with the right car, with the right team, performing. Also, I did the first year, driving for Sauber, and then I moved as a test driver for Ferrari. You don't know if you will have another chance to come back. So, you always need the pressure. The career in Formula 1 is always like that. Maybe you do a two–year contract, when you are in the middle of the second year, you don't know you will stay, you will not stay. Performance will give you the opportunity to stay. In the end, everything is pressure in Formula 1.
You also had a situation similar to Valtteri Bottas in Mercedes, that he was waiting for the contract. How frustrating is it to know that you are racing, you are scoring points, you are on the podium, and then you are still waiting for the contract?
It's part of Formula 1. Many drivers are feeling that, not only me and Bottas. Now we are getting to the end of the championship and you have so many drivers inside the contract. They are trying to show everything they can, in terms of results, to show the team that they are the right choice. Maybe others that are not in Formula 1, but they have the possibility to be in Formula 1. In the end, the pressure is part of the work in Formula 1. It doesn't matter if you are in the top or not, you always have this working pressure to stay or to improve your contract, or to stay where you are. In the end, it's part of Formula 1.
What do you think about Felipe Drugovich? He is now in a similar situation as Nyck de Vries, he won F2 and he is still waiting for his seat.
I think he did a fantastic job this year, he really managed to win the Formula 2, I think that's really amazing. If he signs with the right team or not, it's impossible to say because you need to have the chance, you need to have the possibility to be in Formula 1. The negative point he has is that he won the Formula 2 in the third year. And then the Formula 1 team doesn't give the same importance when you arrive in the first year and you win. Let's see from now on if he will have the opportunity or not. He signed to be the third driver in Aston Martin. But they have Fernando there for two years and the other driver is the son of the owner. So, if he will have the chance or not, we don't know. We just need to wait and see if he can have that possibility in Aston Martin or maybe in another team. But we need to wait and see, I really hope so.
Did he talk with you?
Yeah, he's a very nice guy, a very great driver, but it’s a different thing, so it's important to have the chance. If he will really have the chance to be in Formula 1 or not, I really hope, but I don't know.
You won plenty of races. I remember your first victory in Brazil, I remember your first victory in Turkey. Which one is the most favourite, after which you had goosebumps?
I think the first one in Brazil, because winning at home is different, you know. Especially in the place I grew up, in Interlagos. There was a karting track, so that was really special. I raced with a green and yellow race suit; it was really having the feeling of the people with Ferrari. Also, I managed to win the second time in 2008, fighting for the championship. So, in the end, yeah, that was the most incredible moment of my career.
I want to ask about the accident in Hungary. After everything, when you know that you are ok, have you got no hope that you will be back here?
Yeah, because you never know if everything will be ok, if it will be normal. Many people were saying, especially the doctors, that it was a very serious thing, what I had. So, then you always have that in mind. I was feeling ok, I was feeling, like, for sure I can be back and racing. But then if you drive the car and you see that something is different, you don't know. But when I drove the car, I understood that I know, I think I am fine. For sure after that accident, I never won a race anymore, I was very close to win. I also didn't have the car to win like I had before the accident. In the end it was what happened, but I managed to do seven years, from 2010 to 2017, you know, still racing in Formula 1. I finished my career in the right way and I was very lucky that I am still here, you know, after the accident. In the end, many things happen for a reason, in your life.
How is it to be a retired driver and then after a few days be back here?
It's a different feeling, you know. You are here for a different thing, you are here to speak to the people, the fans, interviews, meeting very important people. Sponsors, business people from different companies, top companies. In the end it's quite nice, I mean it's quite an important thing to do. But it's also a lot more relaxed because you are not coming here for pressure to race, you know. You are coming here to try to pass your experience to the people and that's nice. I mean, it's not easy, you know. You need to have good patience and you need to want to do that. I’m doing eight races. I said to Stefano [Domenicali], I said no, I can come to a maximum of eight races because I have other things to do. Anyway, he's happy with me, I mean we worked together for a long time, we had an amazing relationship like a family. It's nice to be part of the Formula One ambassadors.
What was your reaction when you retired from Williams and then after a short time you came back?
I didn't retire. I just said I'm going to retire and then everything changed at the last moment. I was still racing so I said why not, I mean it was also nice to be part of the new rules, cars with more downforce and everything else. I was happy to stay racing and do another year for Williams and it was good. I was a bit unlucky that season, I could have finished double of the points that I had. I had two or three races that I was going to be in the top five, even Baku on the podium, maybe even fighting for the victory. All the races that I was going to easily finish in the top five and I had a puncture. I was a little bit unlucky in some races but it was very good, I was driving well. And then, it was the end of that season, it was the time to stop. I was happy.
You had a lot of great moments battling with the other drivers but as a Polish journalist I must ask about Robert Kubica and your famous fight in the 2007 Japanese Grand Prix. How was it to fight with Robert at that moment and knowing that now you could get plenty of penalties for this?
To be honest, I think everything that happened on that last lap, for me and for Robert, I was having in mind that maybe we could be penalized, even then. Now for sure, now you cannot do that anymore. But at that time, I was pretty sure that one of us, maybe both of us, could be penalized for what we did because it was really amazing. I mean, you arrive on that last lap and you just try everything you can, going outside of the track, back, then he goes outside of the track, back, every corner like that. It was really, really funny to do that inside the car. And when you finish in that way, it's not because I finished in front, you didn't know, anything could happen on that time. But it was really funny and it was a really nice fight for the history of Formula One, like maybe Gilles Villeneuve with René Arnoux in the past. So, it was really a nice, iconic fight in Formula One.
Did you talk with him?
Yeah, he is a nice guy, a great driver. To be honest, it's very nice to see him back, living his life in the normal way, driving and doing what he likes. But I feel really sorry. I was sure he was going to take my place in Ferrari, you know, because he was doing an amazing job for his career. I was sure that he was the name to replace me in Ferrari. But that was not a problem, because he deserved it. But when his accident happened, I was really sorry for him because that was unbelievable. It was unbelievable to see what's happened to him, that he's alive. And it was unbelievable to see a driver so good like him, losing an important possibility in his career. I feel sorry, I feel shame for what's happened to him. After, when you see that he's back, even driving, I never thought he was going to drive anymore, is really nice for him. But unfortunately, he lost a great opportunity for his amazing career that he could have had in Formula One.
Now I know there's a lot of topics, I'm sorry for that, but I would like to talk about Formula E, about Venturi and about Monaco. How different is it to drive a Formula E car?
Very different, completely different. It's like a completely different car compared to Formula One. A completely different driving compared to Formula One. A completely different mentality compared to Formula One, especially in the race. In the qualifying – no, because you always try to do the best lap you can. The car has no grip, but it's fun. Qualifying is quite funny, but the race is very boring. Because in the race you're going, I don't know, eight seconds slower than your lap time in the qualifying. You're driving more like an engineer than a driver. In the end there are some quite nice fights, but everything depends on the battery of the car. You need to recharge every corner, driving really slowly. Quick, in the quickest way you can, but slow because of the recharging of the battery. And for me that's boring compared to what you need to do in Formula One.
What do you think about the situation in Valencia and the battery and those drama with stewards? I don’t know if you remember that situation. When there was some time added to the race and some of the drivers were out of battery.
Yeah, this is Formula E. In many races you see that you have a very high consumption on the battery. Many drivers maybe are trying too hard and are finishing without battery. So, this is Formula E. It's funny for the people that are watching, but you also have many differences between teams. Teams that are much more efficient on the battery compared to other teams. It’s a big help for Formula E. In the end it's not only Valencia, but on many tracks, you can see drivers not finishing in the right way. Because you need to be more engineered than a driver.
I talked with Nyck de Vries two days ago and he told me that Formula E is too complicated sometimes. Do you think the same? Because I am also a big fan of Formula E, but also when I see some of the regulations I try to understand and I am always like: why do we need things like that?
Yeah, I agree with him. In the end sometimes it's quite complicated also because of the battery. If you don't have a high charge on the battery that you really need, you need to really take care a lot in the race. Then it would have been more fun from the driver's point of view.
I would also like to ask about Rio. There was some information that maybe we will go to Rio and have another race. What do you think about it?
I think it was not the right thing to do. First of all, São Paulo is a very nice racetrack and the races are really amazing there. Then the company that wants to do the track in Rio, I don't know if you could trust, but it was a company that had no money. Maybe they spoke to the president, and the president was happy for that change. But at the end you need to do things in a very professional way. And I think it didn't really sound very professional. So, I think what happened to São Paulo, to stay in São Paulo, was the most correct for Formula 1 and for the race in Brazil as well.
You are racing now in stock cars, but do you think sometimes about other series to try something like Le Mans, IndyCar?
Yeah, but for the moment I would like to do only the Le Mans race. But, to do only the Le Mans race, you will not have a competitive car. You need to be part of the WEC championship. But I don't want to be part of the WEC championship because I have other things to do. I'm happy to live in Brazil. To do the WEC championship you need to live there, you need to work 100% for the team and everything else. I'm happy with my life now. I'm happy with everything I'm doing, with the business I'm doing. I'm happy to keep racing in Brazil, to have the competition that I miss, and also do other things. I'm not really concentrating only on racing anymore. I'm concentrating on many different things.
You were a Ferrari driver, now Charles Leclerc is trying to be a world champion. What do you think about Ferrari now and don't you think that nothing almost has changed when you were there? Because there is a lot of opinion from almost 15 years, every time the same mistakes…
Well, first of all I think Charles is doing a fantastic job. He's a great driver, he really deserves to be in a competitive car. He deserves to have the opportunity to fight for the championship as a driver. But yeah, I think they need to fix the problem. They need to improve the things that are not working – on the strategy but also on so many other things. They have mechanical issues at the beginning of the season. They had problems in the pit stop, many, many problems in the strategy. In the end, to win the championship, everything needs to be perfect. For me, when you have a season like this, it's important to fix things in the right way. If you start to change things and you change for the wrong way, that is not good. So, you need to change things in the right way and fix them quickly. You need to fix now until the last race to be better for the next season.
What do you think about Mick Schumacher and Daniel Ricciardo? Because I know you were close to each other. Do you think they will stay in F1 for another year?
Well, for sure I don't have that talk with the teams to understand how big is their chance to stay in Formula 1. But they are in the same situation that I was in when I finished Ferrari. So, until I didn't have the opportunity to go to Williams, I didn't know if I would stay in Formula 1 or not. So, it's the same for them. They are in that position. The result is the most important thing. Maybe now, if Daniel is doing three amazing races, maybe Haas is interested. Maybe the other team is interested in having him if he wants to go. And Mick is the same. The only thing he needs to concentrate on is driving well. If he really drives well, maybe he can stay for another season. But Daniel is part of the Formula 1 world. You need to concentrate on your job and have good management, people to work for you.
Thank you so much. It was a big pleasure.
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