He famously narrowly missed out on the Formula One drivers’ title with Ferrari back in 2008, survived a life-threatening accident the following year, and after leaving the Scuderia landed another top-flight drive just when many were predicting his career was over.
The Brazilian is one of the most experienced drivers on the grid and since 2002, has competed in V10, V8 and V6-powered cars, has represented three different teams, and has come within one point of winning a world championship.
At 34, Massa has certainly seen it all and could be forgiven if he allowed himself to lose enthusiasm for the sport. But having helped Williams claim third in the constructors’ championship for a second straight season, and spurred on by his six-year-old son watching trackside, Massa insists his desire to win a world title remains stronger than ever.
The closest he has come was back in 2008 when driving for Ferrari as the then 27-year-old was pipped at the post by Hamilton by a single point. Since then he’s never finished inside the top five in the final world championship standings. But he still hasn’t given up on securing F1 racing’s biggest prize…
Q: Felipe, 2015 has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride for Williams and their two drivers. Why is it so hard to find constant performance?
Felipe Massa: Ha, don’t get distracted by the last two races because before then we’ve been pretty consistent. Yes, true, the last two races were really not my thing. I was maybe a bit unlucky with all the problems that I had - in Singapore with that contact [with Nico Hulkenberg] I had after my pit stop, and then at the last race at the start with another contact that caused a puncture: that was the end of a nice race for me. But before these two races everything was going quite consistently.
Q: But looking back at the season, it seems there were times when you were definitely lacking performance…
FM: Probably our car was not behaving properly at a few races - like in Spa in the first stint we were really struggling…
Q: …then Monaco was a minor catastrophe…
FM: …Monaco was a different reason. That track is really bad for us. In all fairness we expected to be more competitive in Suzuka than we were, but that is part of the sport. At other races where we expected to struggle we did surprisingly well. We always try to understand why this is so - and then make things work in a proper way.
Q: Having the best engine in the back of the car, one assumes it must be the chassis that causes the glitches. What are they?
FM: Well, for sure we have a very good engine. Maybe not the best - Mercedes has the best - but it is definitely a good one compared to others. On the chassis side, of course we try to be better every time because on the aero side it is up to us to make changes. Probably there are cars that are better than us, but we cannot complain. We are competitive. We are third in the championship. If you put everything on the table we are not exactly where we expected to be, but I think we are far from doing a disastrous job.
Q: If you had exactly the same engine as Mercedes, where would it take you?
FM: It is difficult to say in regards to real positions in the standings, but for sure there must be some differences - otherwise they [Mercedes] wouldn’t run that specification.
Q: Your team mate Valtteri Bottas has said that the focus is firmly on the 2016 season. What will be different then?
FM: I can only imagine that teams are working on the engine side when they are struggling in that area. For Williams I can say that we already started quite a while ago to work on the 2016 car - and this is the way to go. So we will settle for P3 and move as quickly as possible to the full 2016 development. That makes the most sense.
Q: Have you been taken by surprise by the upward trend that Ferrari has shown?
FM: You can never use the term ‘surprised’ when it comes to Ferrari. It is an amazing company with a lot of people working just for the F1 team. It is a strong team…
Q: …but it is also a team chasing the title for seven years now…
FM: Yes, they had difficult times. But I also look at Ferrari as a very strong competitor. They had a bad engine last season, but they have improved massively. And most important they understood how to improve, so it is no surprise for me in the end.
Q: Valtteri was linked with a switch to Ferrari. You made such a switch some years ago, so you must understand the temptation. What’s it like?
FM: It was a dream come true for me. Don’t forget I came from Sauber, and it was totally impossible to compare Sauber with Ferrari. In Valtteri’s case I would say that Williams is much better than Sauber. In reality Ferrari is a team everybody wants to part of - at least for one year. It’s simply a dream come true, so for a young driver getting the opportunity to drive for Ferrari is overwhelming. It’s simply not something where you would say no.
Q: Does it make something of you?
FM: If you sign, yes. But he [Valtteri] didn’t sign, so it didn’t change anything for him! (laughs)
Q: Williams will have the same driver line-up next season. What are the good things about that?
FM: We are working well together: moving things forward and not backwards - and scoring points. The relationship within the team is very important for success, so if you have a driver who is working in a bad way with the team it can have a bad influence on the team. So if would not have made any sense for Williams to change drivers, as we work very well together - as we have for almost two years. And look where we are now compared to back then!
Q: What about friendship?
FM: On track you want to beat anybody - and if it is your team mate who is ahead of you, it hurts even more.
Q: He has been ahead of you a few times this year - did it hurt?
FM: For sure. But I also think that it happened the other way around. In the end we have been used to that rivalry since we started to race go-karts - and that is quite a while ago!
Q: How is it to have lived such a competitive life since childhood?
FM: That’s the life we’ve chosen. It’s part of our job. We know that we can get beaten - so no hard feelings over that, because you usually have the chance for revenge in two weeks. There is always a next race! So forget about the past - it’s only in the future that you can change things.
Q: Williams’ technical chief Pat Symonds said that he believes there is still a title win within you. Do you feel the same - and how far off that situation are you right now?
FM: Ha, I feel the same as Pat, so I cannot say I am happy with the situation right now. It is when I am fighting for wins and championship that I am happy. Unfortunately we haven’t had have the possibility to do that, but I do believe that my time could come again. There is always tomorrow!
TEXT: STEVEN SHEPHERD // PHOTOGRAPHY: RICHARD MILLE