Felipe Massa

Felipe Massa has not had a great season with Sauber, but at Spa he put himself back in the spotlight with a superb drive to fourth place, behind only Kimi Raikkonen and the two Ferraris. But it was his test of nerves with Juan Pablo Montoya that really caught the eye.

Felipe Massa

After his 'finishing school' year as Ferrari test driver in 2003 Felipe Massa returned to Sauber this season in theory as a much better prospect than he was back in 2002.

The reality hasn't quite borne that out, and while he's had a few good races, he's generally been overshadowed by team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella. However, at Spa he redeemed himself with a charging drive that saw him beaming from ear to ear after the flag. "For sure it was the best race with my life!" he enthused.

His day started off badly when he got out of shape going into La Source, and bumped into Raikkonen's McLaren. While he tried to sort himself out he was hit hard from behind by Jenson Button's BAR. It could have all been over, and had Kimi also suffered terminal damage, Massa might have been in the doghouse.

As it happened Raikkonen escaped relatively unharmed, while the accident at the top of Eau Rouge took attention off the earlier bumping, and allowed Felipe to head to the pits without penalty. With damage at both ends of the car, he had little choice but to come in.

Fortunately the very slow safety car laps allowed both Massa and Rubens Barrichello to undergo long repairs over two stops apiece, and yet not lose a lap to the pack. In fact Felipe got out before the Ferrari - one presumes the Sauber rear wing is easier to change - and he was able to catch the queue.

"I had an accident at the start with Kimi and Button. I touched with Kimi, and then Button touched me from the back. Anyway, I damaged my front wing. They changed that in the pits, and then they realised that my rear wing was also quite bad. I did another lap and came back to change it."

At that stage he almost gave up, until realising that he still had a chance.

"I was really disappointed because it takes quite a while to change it, and I was just wondering if somebody could lap me, because if they lapped me my race was finished."

After that everything fell into place, and he picked up places as everyone else hit trouble. It's open to debate as to whether the team could have changed his strategy, for Massa still had to make two more scheduled stops, while Ferrari topped up Rubens and switched him to one. Nevertheless fourth place after a total of four stops was a pretty impressive effort. Afterwards, he was a very happy man.

"I pushed hard from the beginning to the end. I had a very good pace. I was also blocked by Zonta, because I was quicker than him, and it was very difficult to overtake him."

Although he got involved in several battles, the best was undoubtedly with Juan Pablo Montoya. The Williams man came out of the pits just as Felipe charged down the hill from La Source. Neither man was in a hurry to give way on the run to Eau Rouge.

As I watched out of the press room window I recalled seeing, from a similar angle, Stefan Bellof try to pass Jacky Ickx in a Porsche 956 some 19 years ago. My heart was in my mouth, but in the end it was Montoya who blinked first and let Felipe take the corner. It was close...

"I had a fantastic time with Montoya in Eau Rouge. For sure he was thinking that I would back off, but I didn't back off, and I didn't worry about him. I was really hungry. The race was really bad in the beginning, and I was just hungry to do my best to finish the race and to do something.

"I never expected to be position four. I was just pushing hard and concentrated until the end. I was already in the back because of the accident of the start, then I had two stops to change everything. Anyway, it was just my race. And I love this track!"

Massa was able to outpace his team-mate because Fisichella's car also sustained rear damage at the first corner, although the Brazilian was not without problems of his own.

"The car was quite oversteery in the high-speed corners because I damaged the diffuser. For sure I lost quite a lot of downforce. The car was really nervous in the high-speed corners. Sometimes it was also really dangerous in Eau Rouge, because it was so nervous."

The result came at just the right time for Massa. Fisichella has of course earned himself a promotion to Renault, and while Felipe is expected to stay with Sauber next year, there has been a lot of talk about new faces coming in - from Jacques Villeneuve to Vitantonio Liuzzi. It was crucial for him to re-establish himself, especially in the eyes of Peter Sauber.

"This is very important for me, and it's very important for my motivation and the motivation of the team. I hope I can do a similar result before the end of the year. Anyway, I'm just really happy and proud of my race and proud of the team. For sure I want to dedicate this race to my grandfather, because he died yesterday. This is something that is special for me. And I hope this is the right time for you to say something good about me!"

Next stop is Monza, where Sauber has had some good results in the past. It's a circuit Massa is looking forward to, although his last visit in 2002 was ended by a controversial collision with Pedro de la Rosa. That earned him a one-race ban...

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