Sport : F1

Felipe Massa

12th March 2014, 11:09am

Formula 1's new era coincides with an intriguing fresh start for Felipe Massa's career, as after eight years of highs and lows cocooned in the sanctuary of Ferrari, the Brazilian veteran becomes the latest seasoned driver to accept the challenge of helping take Williams back to the top.

Speculation over Massa's Maranello future had long become a perennial feature of the sport's 'silly season' - even in the good times - and it was an inconsistent 2013 campaign that finally brought to an end his distinguished career in red as the Ferrari hierarchy put sentiment aside and rehired Kimi Raikkonen to partner Fernando Alonso.

But while finally finding himself surplus to requirements at his long-time home, Massa's near 200-GPs worth of experience, and status as an 11-times race winner, was still considered invaluable elsewhere and Williams have brought him to Grove to try and spearhead a revival after plumbing the depths in 2013.

Having joked that he quickly needs to "get used to the different colour" of his new team, Massa, via Mercedes' all-new turbo power unit, will incredibly also experience an F1 car without a Ferrari engine in the back of it for the first time. As while he only joined the famous marque as a race driver in 2006, his relationship with Maranello began as long ago as 2001, when he was a 20-year-old dominant Euro Formula 3000 Champion.

It was with Ferrari's long-time engine customers Sauber that a very wet-behind-the-ears Massa initially joined the F1 grid in 2002, however his fast-but-erratic style failed to impress more often than not.

After a year spent back at Ferrari finishing school in a test role, a more rounded Brazilian was loaned back to Hinwil for two further seasons before his big chance came in 2006, when Jean Todt chose him to succeed Rubens Barrichello as Michael Schumacher's team-mate.

The Brazilian performed more than admirably after a slow start to the season and was soon challenging the title-chasing Schumacher in both qualifying and races. He claimed two victories - in Turkey and Brazil - with the latter seeing him become the first Brazilian since Ayrton Senna to win the Sao Paulo race.

Schumacher's first retirement was followed by the arrival of the similarly high-profile Raikkonen for 2007 and while the Finn clinched that year's title, in 2008 it was Massa who emerged as Ferrari's number one driver. Overcoming a poor start to the year, he emerged in the hunt for a first crown at the season-ending Brazilian GP and a serene home victory in the wet at Interlagos famously made him 'World Champion for 30 seconds' until Lewis Hamilton made ground on the most dramatic of final laps.

The Brazilian began 2009 in disappointing fashion, with Ferrari off the pace. But his season ended during qualifying for the Hungarian GP, where he was hit on the helmet by a spring that had broken loose from Barrichello's car, knocking him unconscious and sending his car hurtling into the barriers. With Massa's life hanging in the balance, he was taken to a Budapest hospital for emergency surgery having suffered skull fractures.

Massa was placed in a medically-induced coma as doctors waited for the swelling to subside before he was finally able to leave hospital 10 days after the accident. He came back in steady fashion in 2010 but was forced to play a supporting role alongside new star team-mate Alonso, culminating in the infamous 'Fernando is faster than you' message in Germany, where he meekly handed over the lead. It would set the tone for four years in the Spaniard's shadow.

Massa failed to reach the podium at all during 2011 and also made contact with Hamilton no fewer than six times, resulting in some lurid headlines. His start to 2012 proved similarly depressing, particularly in Malaysia, where he finished 15th while Alonso won the race from Ferrari's young protege Sergio Perez. At that stage, replacement mid-season even seemed a possibility, however, points in every race from Hungary onwards and a long-awaited return to the podium in Japan - the result which signalled that Ferrari would renew his contract for another year - was capped by an emotional season-ending podium on home soil at Interlagos.

The upturn continued into the early weeks of 2013 as Massa outqualified team leader Alonso in both Australia and Malaysia, but a third place in Spain ultimately proved his sole rostrum of the year while the Spaniard took nine. A curious mid-season run of crashes suggested the writing was on the wall and Ferrari ultimately decided that it was time to make a change for 2014 - although they graciously allowed Massa to make the announcement that he was leaving himself.

Williams's dismal 2013 suggests the affable Brazilian will have to get used to a different level of machinery and expectation but if the form that saw him outqualify Alonso eight times in his final year at Ferrari is an accurate indication that the outright pace of his 2008 peak still remains in tact, Massa, one of F1's most popular and personable drivers, could yet prove a rejuvenated force.

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