Over the course of an F1 season, which normally begins in March and has its final pit stop in November, can the final 18 seconds of the last race really be all that important? Don't ask that question to Ferrari's Brazilian driver Felipe Massa.Going into the 71st and final lap of the 2008 season closer at his home circuit, Interlagos in Sao Paolo, Massa was leading the race, and the provisional title standings. His chief rival Lewis Hamilton had just been overtaken by Red Bull driver Sebastian Vettel, consigned to sixth spot and out of the title reckoning.
Massa crossed the line, the Ferrari pit garage erupted in joy, and then 20 seconds later, bliss turned to sorrow. Toyota's Timo Glock, losing traction on his dry-weather tyres, lapped a full 20 seconds off the pace in the closing lap. With three corners to go in the anti-clockwise circuit, Hamilton passed Glock, and 18 seconds later was the new world champion.
Now, three years later, Massa realises it wasn't the slowing Glock who cost him the title, it could have been one of several reasons. "When you lose the title like that, the key point could have been lost in several places: in my case, I think the points I lost in Singapore and Budapest made the difference; when I was leading the race and we had problems, the first one at the pit stop and the second with the engine," Massa tells HT, as he gears up for his maiden trip to India for next week's Indian GP.
The 30-year-old Brazilian may have missed out on the title, but through his 10-year F1 career he's always been in the company of champions, partnering four drivers' champions - Michael Schumacher, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso in his six-year stint at Maranello, and Jacques Villeneuve at Sauber.
"Ever since I've been in Formula 1, I have always had very strong teammates, especially at Ferrari, and I think I have always been up at their level," he says.
The Brazilian adds that as a partner Schumacher was a class apart. "I learned so much from Michael, I grew within the team alongside him. For example, the year I spent as a test driver in 2003 was very useful. With Kimi and Fernando it's been a slightly different relationship. Both are very strong and definitely a good reference point to measure up against," he says.
In 2009, Massa fractured his skull in a horrifying 170mph crash at the Hungarian Grand Prix. Massa was hit by a rear suspension spring that had come off Rubens Barrichello's Brawn car. The spring penetrated the Brazilian's helmet visor and hit him above his left eye, causing him to careen off the track, into a tyre wall.
Massa was kept in an induced coma as fears grew that he would never get behind the wheel. The man himself never had any such doubts.
"I never had negative thoughts, and I knew I would return to racing. In fact, had it been up to me, I'd have come back immediately! My wife Raffaela had to be very patient in explaining to me that this was not possible."