Born on April 25th, 1981, Felipe Massa is currently driving for the Ferrari Formula One team after spending three years at Sauber.
Felipe is of Italian-Brazilian descent, as his grandfather moved from Cerignola in Italy to Sao Paulo in Brazil. Massa began to take an interest in racing when he was delivering pizzas to the Brazilian Grand Prix when he was just seven years old. A year later he began karting and even finished in fourth place in his first season.
Massa continued to drive in national and international karting championships for the next seven years and in 1988, he moved up to the Formula Chevrolet, finishing that season in fifth. The following year, Massa took three victories from ten and claimed the title.
A move to Europe was needed to further his career, which Felipe did in 2000, joining the Italian Formula Renault series, winning both this and also the European Formula Renault titles. This performance gave Massa a choice of Formula Three or Formula 3000, and Massa chose 3000. It was a good choice as Felipe excelled in this series, and he won six of the eight races in his first year, and claimed the crown. From here, Massa was offered a test with the Sauber team, who signed him soon after.
Sauber partnered the German Formula 3000 champion Nick Heidfeld with Felipe in 2002. But although Massa showed the world he had pace and talent, he also spun too many times and began to get a reputation of a non-finisher. He did however, manage to accrue four points during the course of the season, including a fifth place in Spain. Unfortunately, at the American Grand Prix, late in the season, Massa received a penalty and Sauber chose to replace Massa with the more experienced Heinz-Harald Frentzen. Felipe was back in the cockpit by the Japanese Grand Prix, but Frentzen was already confirmed for Sauber for the next season. Massa signed to Ferrari as a test driver and headed off to Italy for a year, a year that would pay dividends later on in his career.
After spending a year under the tutelage of Ferrari, Massa convinced Sauber that his error-riddled driving habits of the past remained firmly in the past and Sauber re-signed the young Brazilian for 2004. This time, Massa was partnered with Giancarlo Fisichella – an experienced Italian who had a reputation of crushing his team mates. Despite this though, Massa had a better year, and of the total tally of 34 points for the team, Felipe accrued 12 of them, including a career best fourth at the Belgian Grand Prix. Although Fisichella did comprehensively beat Felipe, Massa did enough to be granted an extension to his contract, and he remained with the team for another year.
In what was to become an interesting coincidence in Felipe’s career, he was again partnered with a much stronger driver on paper. This time, it was 1997 World Champion Jacques Villeneuve. Villeneuve was in a lull in his career having left the BAR team. He drove a race for Renault at the end of 2004 and was generally unimpressive, but Sauber managed to get his signature on a contract and things were looking good for the small Swiss outfit.
However, a disappointing car and talks of BMW buying the team out plagued the team for 2005, and points were few and far between. One thing that did come from all the misery of this season was Massa’a ability to consistently outpace his much more experienced team mate. Felipe regularly out-raced Villeneuve, and Massa’s reputation went up as Villeneuve’s bottomed-out.
This showing and his year spent in Italy in 2003 meant that late in 2005, Massa received a phone call from Ferrari – his services were required for 2006 to partner the multiple world champion Michael Schumacher.
A good start for Ferrari was needed in 2006, and a second pace qualifying was good enough to settle the hearts of the team, and the tifosi. Massa also drove from 21st in Malaysia to 5th before the chequered flag fell. However, Massa had a few near misses with other drivers and a few spins in practice made people think of Felipe’s early days. This reaction was confirmed in Australia when Felipe crashed his car in qualifying, and then destroyed it on the first lap of the race when he made contact with Christian Klien and Nico Rosberg. Felipe though, has manage to settle down in the new team, and after scoring his first podium in Germany at the Nurburgring, Massa has managed to eliminate most unforced errors and become a mature and consistent racing driver.
The rest of 2006 went relatively well for Felipe. Although he was playing second to team mate Michael Schumacher, he managed a further three podiums, a win in Turkey (his maiden) and a superb drive at home in Brazil earned him a place in the hearts of every Brazilian as he stormed to victory at Interlagos. After the Italian Grand Prix, it was announced that Felipe’s team mate Michael Schumacher would be retiring. At the same time, Ferrari confirmed they would be keeping Felipe Massa for another year, and in 2007 he was to be partnered by the very fast Kimi Raikkonen. Interestingly, Ferrari have declined to name a ‘number one’ driver, unlike the years when Schumacher was publicly known as the numero uno at The Scuderia.
Driving alongside new-to-Ferrari Kimi Raikkonen, Massa held his own during 2007 and had a reasonably successful year. Felipe won three events, Bahrain, Spain and Turkey, and finished fourth in the title race with 94 points. Raikkonen eventually won the championship, but the points difference between the team mates was only 14 at the end of the season.
On November 30th 2007, Felipe married his girlfriend Rafaela Bassi in Sao Paulo at a ceremony attended by 800 people. Among those present were fellow countrymen and racing drivers Rubens Barrichello and Antonio Pizzonia as well as a few staff from Ferrari.