March 23, 2013

Stay cool, Felipe baby, stay cool

Felipe Massa will start on the front row tomorrow for the first time since the opening race of 2010 © Sutton Images

Even when the Sepang skies are doing their worst, chucking down more rain in twenty minutes than has ever fallen over that soggy country I like to call home (Heathrow Airport, I believe it’s called?), it’s hard to stay cool in Malaysia.

An Indian colleague has admitted he’s been flattened by the heat, having assumed that his Mumbai boyhood would have prepared him for the hottest conditions the planet has to offer. I remember backpacking around Malaysia as a student, and spending most of the first week riding on the monorail in Kuala Lumpur for the sole reason that it was air-conditioned and my youth hostel wasn’t.

Some countries are so hot and sticky that stepping off the plane feels like walking into an oven. Malaysia is definitely one of those countries.

I don’t know how the drivers (or photographers) do it. Technically I do, as we’ve all seen the features on dry ice and cooling jackets and training in heat chambers and all of the other stuff that motorsport folk do to acclimatise. But on a human level? I spend my days running from air-conditioning unit to air-conditioning unit.

On Thursday afternoon I interviewed Davide Valsecchi in the Lotus hospitality unit. Despite the air-con, it was so hot inside (and I was, umm, ‘glowing’ so copiously) that the gentlemanly Italian broke off our chat after a few minutes to search the motorhome for a napkin I could use to dry myself off a bit. Embarrassing? Only a little.

One driver who has been able to keep his cool in the heat this weekend is Felipe Massa, who currently has a 100 percent success rate in the out-qualifying your teammate stakes. Sure, we’ve only got two quali sessions in the bag, but go back six months and who woulda thunk it was even possible for Massa to outpace Fernando Alonso?

If the look on his face was anything to go by when he was asked pretty much the same question this afternoon, Alonso most certainly didn’t.

Now we all know that there are no points on offer on Saturday. But is there an F1 fan out there who doesn’t enjoy seeing the spring return to Felipe baby’s step? Not only is the little fuchsia man (one of his many paddock nicknames) a popular figure in the sport, with his amiable demeanour, mischievous sense of humour, and pinchably chubby cheeks, but Massa’s been through the wars and back over the past few years.

Interlagos 2008 will go down in history as the best televised example of being gracious in defeat. The 2008 WDC was Felipe’s for a matter of moments, and the dignity with which he faced the loss his team had already begun to celebrate made him – in my mind – a true sporting hero.

Then there was the brush with death in qualifying for the 2009 Hungarian Grand Prix, when Massa came within millimetres of losing his life thanks to a flying piece of suspension. A true fighter to the core, Massa was back in a kart as soon as his doctor would let him, and back behind the wheel of an F1 car in the 2010 winter tests. At Hockenheim later that year, team orders meant that Felipe baby had his first chance of a post-return win – one that would have fallen on the anniversary of his accident – snatched away from him by a team with their eye on a title for Alonso.

And then there were the 2011 and 2012 seasons, which are best swept under the carpet and never referred to again. Even when Massa began to show a return to form in late 2012, his chances at glory were removed by a team once again fighting for a drivers’ title for their de facto number one.

To see Felipe with his mojo back is fantastic. The nice guy might not finish first, but he’s back in the fight at last. You’ve come a long way, Felipe baby. Here’s hoping you run and run and run.


Posted by Tim on 25/03/2013

Yes Felipe is a real exception and in a way a unique personality around the padock. Lts hope he has his shhare of luck now.

Posted by se7van on 25/03/2013

Good job Massa, keep it up...!!!

Posted by DoesntMatter on 24/03/2013

"who woulda thunk" Really? This isn't even a typo to ignore. When did "thunk" become a past tense for "think"? You are a journalist and you definitely need to brush up your language skills!

Posted by Ian Billings on 24/03/2013

Don't get me wrong, I like Massa, but everyone claiming he is anywhere near Alonso, is having their head up their ar*e.

Massa can luck it with a good Q3 lap, but race day comes, Massa usually fades away.

Malaysia here a clear case. Alonso out in first lap, so the conspiracy theoriests lose their ammunition. Time for Massa to shine! .. But as the only top qualifier, he went freaking back wards .. Says all you need to know about Massa.

Sorry, truth hurts.

Posted by arun on 24/03/2013

The fighter is back..

Posted by benjamin tapia on 24/03/2013

I'm very,very happy about Felipe, I´still remember that: felipe fernando is faster than you...did you get the...

Posted by rw eifert on 24/03/2013

, Good feelings returned,watching the results so far.But to
be the man,you have to beat the man.Things are wide open
Great read

Posted by Gioma on 23/03/2013

No doubts, Felipe is a fighter and very fast and nice guy who deserves some happiness!

Posted by Q on 23/03/2013

Yeah yeah we know Malaysia is hot tropical country. You've proved your point now please move on!

Posted by Chow on 23/03/2013

Superb article. Felipe Massa has turned the corner for good. Now, no looking back. Almost everyone had written him off. He showed his resilience in the adversity and came back to form. I seems, the damage to brain cells takes some time to heal, hence the lapse. Now it's all over. we have the champion material back. Great, Keep going, Felipe.

Posted by Victor Ferraz on 23/03/2013

Now imagine the excitement for us brazilians to see this guy back on the front row...
If Ferrari screws it up for Felipe this year (by favouring Alonso) I'll personally shoot Domenicali in the balls.

Posted by Bharat on 23/03/2013

First of all, I would like to thank Kate Walker on writing this great piece on Felipe.......he has certainly found his mojo......but im afraid Ferrari is going to dampen his spirit when they ask him to move over for Alonso.......they have shown time & again (especially in Austin) that they will do whatever it takes to win championships....Im a huge ferrari fan but im against these tactics of asking drivers to move over for the great good of the "team".....It does hurt the sport........

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Kate Walker is the editor of GP Week magazine and a freelance contributor to ESPN. A member of the F1 travelling circus since 2010, her unique approach to Formula One coverage has been described as 'a collection of culinary reviews and food pictures from exotic locales that just happen to be playing host to a grand prix'. Kate Walker